Everyone tells you to avoid talking about Religion and Politics in friendly company. This might be even better advice if your experiences have shifted your perspective on either. I have ignored this wisdom to a certain degree, but have played it pretty safe. What I mean is that I have talked a lot about God specifically, but I haven’t always willingly disclosed my own belief and experience. I might try to hide my fear by saying that I was more interested in starting conversations than I was in simply stating what I believed about this or that. As good as that might sound, it doesn’t tell the whole truth. Honestly I’ve been afraid to be honest about my own experience, because I know that would open it up to disagreement and I am not really that confident that I can always articulate a clear defense to those of you who start throwing Scripture at me!
I have been inspired by a few friends to just ignore my better judgment and share a bit more openly than I like about my own experience.
I have experienced what can best be described (at least by me) as 3 big awakenings. These awakenings have come slowly and sometimes with a great deal of inner tension and fear. They have shaped my spirituality immensely and they have clearly shown me that I am far from completely being “awake”.
A couple more notes about these awakenings. They have not been experienced sequentially, but rather very much simultaneously. I sincerely don’t mean to suggest that if you disagree you are somehow beneath me. I am truly sorry if that is how it seems.
1. Awakening to Myself
I have spent the better part of my life convinced that I am my personality, my successes, my failures, and a reflection of what others think of me.
It has taken lots of reading, lots of conversation, and most importantly, lots of quiet reflection to help me wake up to a different reality. I am something much deeper than any of those things I mentioned. My self worth and the core of my identity exists at a deep level that goes beyond what I am usually aware of. My successes, failures, and what you might think about me have absolutely no impact on my deepest sense of self. This is the Soul, the True Self, that core of me that we call the Image of God.
This awakening has shattered so much of my need for you to somehow affirm my beliefs, desires, etc. Of course, as I mentioned above, I am not fully “awake” and that is evident when I start falling into old patterns.
2. Awakening to You
If everything I just said is true for me, then I must acknowledge that it would be true for you as well. You are not your beliefs, personality, affiliations, etc. If I disagree with you or feel hurt by something you said or did, I sometimes feel tempted to label you and see you as “lost” or maybe just an asshole. But I have begun to see the need to acknowledge your Image of God-ness alongside my own. We might not agree on some big things about God, but we are both created by God and that seems a bit more significant.
3. Awakening to God
I admit that my previous understanding of God has been pretty small–almost like a pocket God that I can fully contain and use for my own small purposes. I was pretty careless about throwing around the belief that ‘you’ were carrying around a different god if we didn’t see eye to eye of the finer points of my theology.
I realize now that I was talking out of both sides of my mouth, because God was simultaneously a Cosmic God (Creator of all things) and a small tribal god (My people hold all truth about God and so He/She is “Our God”).
I have experienced an awakening to a much bigger God. The creator of all things and people is present within all of Creation and draws all of Creation back to Him/Herself. If this is true then that means that we (all people) are responding to the drawing of the same God within our own extremely limited context and rational ability. It is for this reason that I have started to hold nearly everything that I believe about God loosely. That is not to say that I don’t find deep significance in what I believe, only that (as a pot who questions the potter) I must hold those beliefs with enough humility to admit that they might be wrong–which in no way impacts the Image of God within me.
This awakening has also challenged the view of God as transactional, angry, violent, etc. I can’t get past the belief that Jesus is Immanuel–God With Us. Jesus didn’t appear to be transactional, angry (at Humanity in general. I realize that He expressed anger), and certainly not violent.
How About You?
When someone shares in a vulnerable way (especially regarding Religion and Politics) the first emotional reaction many of us (Including Me!) get is either “Amen!” or “You’re Completely Wrong!”. Our responses to those people are often made out of those emotional reactions. I want to challenge you to something a bit more difficult than that. Before you start to either affirm or tear down my own experience, be daring enough to share yours. To be clear, I am not suggesting that you spit Scripture and Theology in a disengaged manner, but instead share from your heart. How has God awakened you?