Monday, May 16, 2011

Hey, Don't Think So Much!

I was recently told that I suffer with analysis paralysis. I let the comment sail by without offering a rebuttal but it felt like salt in a wound. It seems I keep getting the same message: these thoughts, these questions, aren't really okay. People might say it's okay to question things but their subsequent words or actions usually betray their (often subconscious) true feelings. Not everyone is a "thinker" and I get that, I really do. I don't have a burning desire to change or challenge every Christian on my radar. Some followers are content to trust the Bible and accept traditional teachings without much thought. That's okay. I don't understand it, but I can (usually) accept it. Sometimes I even envy it. Where I start to feel defensive is when it is implied that my questions betray a lack of commitment or faith; that eventually, as I mature spiritually, I will no longer ask so many questions.

Wiki defines analysis paralysis as over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation, so that a decision or action is never taken, in effect paralyzing the outcome. I am hurt and disappointed that someone has made this assessment of me. I wish I were secure enough to let people have their opinions without feeling the need to defend my position. Unfortunately I'm just not there yet. So I sat, a little stunned, and changed the subject.

But this is what I wanted to say:

My relationship with God, my decision to and the action of following Jesus, is not dependent on me wrapping Christianity up in one tidy little package. I prefer to unwrap this precious gift again and again; examining every last inch. I am okay not always having one definitive answer and I thoroughly enjoy exploring the plethora of possibilities. But that doesn't make me any less of a follower. I have made the decision and I do follow. That is why I am alive, here and now, living a new way of life, surrendering all my shame and hate and loneliness and failures to the One who loves and leads and takes pleasure in my questions. That is why I make choices everyday that go against my desires and instinct. I am certainly not paralyzed; I'm more free than I have ever felt in my whole life. Please don't clip my wings or knock me down a notch.

Yes, I am struggling. Every day I wake up and think, God, I am so broken, please help me do something useful today instead of hurting myself and everyone around me. Please help me love well. This is me making a decision, this is me following. I am very self-centered but (when I humbly ask) God gives me strength to get out of the way and do the next right thing. I'm not saying I do it perfectly, or even well, but this practice is very much a part of my life.

I've read a lot of dialogue (online) between more conservative and progressive Christians and what I've observed is that most conservatives perceive questions like mine as an avoidance of truth because we don't like the traditional answers; i.e. we don't like what the Bible says so we'll keep twisting and reinterpreting it until it says what we want. Like every good lie this one has a seed of truth, but this same accusation can be made of any group or individual who tries to interpret the Bible. We are all human -not mechanical, objective creatures. Dismissing my search as an attempt to distort truth is a convenient way of sweeping my questions under the rug and I don't like that. Truth should stand firm against scrutiny. If progressives are disregarded as relativists who try to impose 21st century values on a timeless message then conservatives are blind to their own cultural baggage and warped lenses. Just because a lot of people believe something to be true doesn't make it so. The church used to think the world was flat, used the Bible to prove it and punished those who thought otherwise as heretics. Our understanding of biblical "truth" is constantly evolving; it just happens more slowly among conservatives.

I suppose the point I'm trying to make here is that my questions are anything but a denial of truth, they are a search for it, in spite not only of the challenges and discomforts of not having quick and easy answers but also the criticisms of those who don't understand my journey. I don't believe I suffer with analysis paralysis. I think my analysis enriches, not diminishes, my faith and I'll go so far as to say that it is more likely that it is those who don't have questions who suffer with paralysis.

I really wish all this didn't bother me so much. I know a big part of the reason is that I am still learning to give myself permission to be me -to keep exploring that which puzzles me. It's tempting to keep it all to myself and just focus on the similarities. But man, that would be so boring and phony on my part. It takes a lot of guts for me to say what I really think and it brings me down when I feel misunderstood or judged. A few days ago I came across this sad website and immediately wondered how many of my Christian friends would have my photo up there among those who need to be evangelized to: Michelle the Heretic! Hopefully one of these days I'll stop feeling the need to defend my position and these kinds of posts will become less frequent. Until then, I still need to vent and work through the mess. It's just part of my process right now.

17 comments:

D'Ma said...

Hang in there, Michelle. There are lots of us who have questions. I'm surrounded mostly by conservative Christians who would view my questions and doubts as heretical. I can no longer subscribe to a quick and easy faith and that scares me. Even some of the more progressive Christians want to give instant answers to my questions and have me jump on that bandwagon. This is a process and I'm not sure how to do it.

jss said...

Hello Michelle the Heretic. I'd say you've stated your position quite clearly. Very well put.

Christians can be shockingly fearful of anyone questioning their 'truth'. If it all fell apart on them what would they do? Where would they turn? Questions are dangerous because under their scrutiny the foundations might crumble and then what you do? Looking for something else to hang your hat on takes energy, both physical and mental. Most people don't really want to have to think, truly think for themselves. It's much easier to have it all laid out in a big book, without ambiguity. Here are the rules, stick to them and you'll be good.

It is amazing how selectively blind human beings are sometimes.

Steve Douglas said...

Great post. Thanks!

Brian said...

Well said! You heretic.

diglotting.com said...

When I first started blogging a couple of years ago I was much more conservative/orthodox in my theological beliefs. Since then I have become decidedly more progressive/heterodox in my beliefs. Unfortunately, that has cause a few bloggers to actually label me a heretic simply because I can't confidently tick all the same theological check boxes.

Great blog by the way!

Brian said...

Just clicked the link to the website. Ouch!

Pippi said...

You certainly don't fit that description! This blog itself is an action. Don't let foolish accusations make you feel bad. They at least have to have some accuracy to be worth looking at!

rachel said...

I could hug you right now. This was a beautiful post, one that I could've written word for word if I had your skill. :) In the past week, three real life acquaintances have questioned my standing in the religious community and essentially my faith because of beliefs that are still within orthodoxy but not quite within conservative evangelicalism. As it stands, we may not get the job we want because I differ slightly on something, because I ask questions. I too want to keep asking the questions and searching deeper for truth. Thank you for being so open on this blog - exactly what I needed to hear today. :)

Michelle said...

D'Ma - "Even some of the more progressive Christians want to give instant answers to my questions and have me jump on that bandwagon." Good point! It cuts both ways...

JSS - I think you hit the nail on the head; as usual!

Thanks for the + feedback Steve and Brian. It makes me smile inside.

Kevin (Diglotting.com), I've been check out your blog and have a feeling I'll be spending a bit of time there! What a wonderful resource you have created.

Brian, you mean you won't be recommending that site to the youth groups?

Pippi, thanks so much for your support and encouragement -as always!

Rachel, feedback like that is what keeps me writing. Thank YOU.

pandora's island said...

Michelle... we definitely need another night of Heretics and Heathens... soon... unless the world ends on the 21st (lol).

Michelle said...

Okay! But I think it's your turn to host!!!

JRM said...

Looks like we have some thoughts in common. I will check out your blog some more. Cmon over and have a look around mine. www.jmacblog.com

JRM said...

where in Canada are you? I'm in Kelowna, BC.

Michelle said...

I'm checking out your blog J, thanks for dropping your comment. I'm across the country on the east coast -PEI to be exact!

JRM said...

Cool. It's still young. Will be getting more thoughts on Christianity and such up in the near future.

Reason's Whore said...

The fact of the matter is that repeated questioning and digging for "the truth" usually leads to rejection of Christianity. That is why they are uncomfortable with it. At root, they know that Christianity will not stand up to inspection. The myth is hedged with a lot of memes, such as "you must have faith" and "we all doubt" and "you'll burn in hell if you reject these beliefs," but if you continue to investigate religion's roots and the rationality, and to be honest about what you have found, you're likely to can the whole thing.

It happens a lot; moreso now that people actually have access to information about the Bible and the church's history, as well as about the mythology that Christianity arose from. We also have scientific studies that disprove the efficacy of prayer and cast doubt on the likelihood of the existence of a "soul". In the old days, you'd just be burned at the stake or threatened for asking questions...now they can't do that so much.

Michelle said...

So true. Many find that as they start to unravel the threads they quickly become naked and run!

It's not safe to ask questions if you want a comfortable, secure faith with no grey areas.

But personally I'm not afraid of disproving the efficacy of prayer or existance of a soul; these things existed for me before my Christian journey and would still exist even if I no longer identified myself as a Christian. My concept of how prayer works may not be very conventional but I definitely believe it does. And soul? Well, I can't begin to explain why I am so certain it exists but I am.