I don’t know if it’s an American thing, or a Western thing, or a human thing, but man… we LOVE to put labels on things. On people. On EVERYTHING. We like to fit things into categories. It’s how we identify ourselves, and it’s how we relate to one another.
Only, some things aren’t so easily categorized, and some things transcend the labels that we assign.
Like faith. To think, that we try to use our meager vocabulary and limited understanding of something so profound… something so big…in order to fit into some notion… in order to fit into some group.
With each label comes a preconceived notion, and each of those is as different as every individual trying to use them. Faith labels, have hurt me, and in many ways have distracted me from the honest truth that I have longed to align with.
I wore (wear)”Christian” for quite a while. That word alone means something different to each person reading it. For me, that word wasn’t nearly as broad as it’s definition. My heritage is in the Evangelical, specifically Methodist, flavor of Christianity. For me, with that word came a long set of theological premises and expectations that may or may not be straight from the mouth of God, but nonetheless shaped my system of thinking, believing, and living. Until it didn’t.
And then what? If, on my own journey towards honest truth, I find myself resonating with ideas or philosophies that veered from my “label”, what then? Well… for me… It meant doubt, it meant fear, it meant “Oh no! What do I do?? Am I a blasphemer? Do I not fit? Am I lukewarm, will I be spit out??… Do I care?”
It wasn’t the teachings OR the teachers that compelled me to have such anxiety about my questioning… but rather my understanding…. of the label. My interpretation of the label made me take an all or none approach. I remember saying it to people… saying, “It’s Jesus, or it’s nothing, and I just don’t know”. I wouldn’t throw the towel in completely, but I certainly threw the baby out with the bathwater (oooh, gotta love all that metaphor!). I was afraid to disavow myself from Christianity, but I desperately wanted to be true to my heart… to my mind… to my existence.
I often thought, and on rare occasion told people, that I couldn’t decide if I was a Christian dressed an Atheist, or an Atheist dressed as a Christian. Truly, on the fence, and feeling such turmoil about where I was going to land. The urgency to choose a side just caused more anxiety… until I took a hands off approach.
“I just don’t know”. That seemed like a true enough space to fill. And I suppose that would be “labeled” as agnostic. So, okay, let’s settle there…
Only, here’s the problem… it’s just another label, trying to define something that (for some) can not be defined by mere language. See, my commitment to the Christian label left me no room for doubt or questioning or adaptation or flexibility… or even growth. And then, my commitment to the atheist/agnostic label (which by the way… in my region, in my family, and in general are ballsy labels to identify with) left me no room for belief.
So… I strip the labels. I love my Christian heritage, and I choose not to turn my back on it. So many of the truths that lie within that label ABSOLUTELY resonate with me. Some don’t. Who cares? Well, okay, plenty of people care, but I don’t have to. Not if it keeps me from pressing forward in the exploration of my personal beliefs about God and all things spiritual. I don’t have to have a description on my name badge that makes people know what kind of theology (if any) that I adhere to.
And when I’m feeling less than devout… When I feel much more like the atheist dressed up as a Christian… I don’t have to let that define me. If I cling to that label, it shuts down the opportunity for mystical, spiritual moments. Moments, that when noticed and nurtured can awaken the spirit and make a doubter believe. My niece was telling me about one of these moments… the kind of moment that you could disregard as coincidence, or attribute to something else.. She said… “I chose to acknowledge it”. Man, that stuck with me… Faith, is not cut and dry. It is not yes and no, it is not (get ready) hot and cold. It’s a moment… it’s a choice. It’s an acknowledgement, that maybe something more is going on… And it’s having the openness and courage to entertain the moment… to quiet all the clamor in our minds that is made up mostly of baggage that we associate with muddled labels… so that we can move forward… towards an honest truth that transcends language or label. A truth that makes us better, truer, kinder versions of ourselves. And when we do this, without the confines of a rigid framework, we are able to truly own our faith, even if we can’t always describe it.
Without the labels, I can navigate this faith journey without anxiety. I can draw from my upbringing, and my Christian education, while seeing things in a less confined manner. And, I’m not sure the outcome, but I think it might mean an expanded perception of God… a truer sense of the nature of Christ… a more compassionate view of humanity… and overall… a better, truer, more peaceful way of living.
If your faith is stressing you out… If you feel more like a Thomas or a Judas or a Jezebel…. Relax. Seriously, relax. Think about stripping down the labels and the obligation and all the pressure, that somehow, infiltrated your sense of self. Rebuild. Slowly. It’s your heart… It’s your life… You can be respectful to your heritage or your customs or your family, while allowing yourself the beautiful treat of being authentic. Do it slowly….because you may take wrong turns. Surround yourself with people who demonstrate love. Listen to people you trust, but not as much as you listen to yourself. Find people who come from your same faith background, but who might have a new or different way of framing things. It allows you to search, without throwing everything out.
To the atheists and agnostics. Don’t feel marginalized. Don’t let others pressure you into feeling broken or incomplete. Allow a little room for life to surprise you. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but don’t be closed off to it. Life is a journey, you are a journey, allow the story to unfold. Don’t put a period on everything. Unless you put three …
There might be more…
Usually, there is more…