I read a really great post this week where a gentleman described in 11 steps how he left his faith and was brought in to something better. Although we did not share the same starting points in terms of faith, his journey resonates with me. As I poured over his list, I kept thinking, "Yep...MmmHmm... been there... did that one". I want to share some of his steps in terms of my experience. I think anyone who leaves a paradigm of some kind will go through similar steps.
Step 1 - Blissful Ignorance
He states that this is the step where, "we see all opposition as evil, sin, 'the adversary', tempting people to stray from the truth." Growing up charismatic, I learned that we were right and everyone else was wrong. Since we believed in the "gifts of the spirit" we were "Full Gospel" (so by definition, everyone else was only "part gospel"). Nearly everyone else was considered "other", so we believed we had a lot of opposition trying to water down or destroy our truth.
Step 2 - Niggling Suspicions
Here he states that we start to see that the opposition may hold something of value and words like "perhaps" enter our mind. These started for me when I joined Bible Quizzing in my early teens. I was learning the books of Romans and James, and I noticed that neither Paul nor James seemed to talk like we talked, or feel like we felt. In fact, I started to come across a fair amount of scripture which seemed to contradict what I had been taught.
In addition, all of the quizzers from other churches were not anything like what I had been told to expect. Instead of playing church and being lukewarm, I found peers that had profound insights into the things of God and were passionate for their faith.
Step 3 - Active denial of Step 2
I never actually went through this step. Being a teenager, I had a natural rebellious streak anyway, so the idea of being a rebel for Christ was appealing. However, I have seen a lot of people hit this point. They are so afraid of being wrong, or being out of the right group, that they aggressively squash any questions that had been forming in their head. They recommit and become more fundamental than ever.
I think step 3 is more involved with leaving a faith paradigm (though I suppose it could happen in other things). There tends to be more than an idea at stake when shifting within or out of your faith. Faith groups have words like heretic, apostate, excommunication, damnation, etc... which are strong inhibitors to keep you from questioning or investigating too much.
Step 4 - Significant Destabilizing Event
I LOVE this phrase. It speaks volumes. I pray each of you reading this may have MANY Significant Destabilizing Events. The author of this list says that this is "some critical incident that throws one out of the denial stage". I would also add that it solidifies your niggling suspicions if you never had a denial stage.
As I look over my history, most of my paradigm shifts had some kind of S.D.E. (or at least a D.E.). I can look back and think, "That is the event or item that caused me to question ____".
My ultimate point in writing this blog was to share a few of my significant destabilizing events (perhaps in the comments section you might share some of yours).
I remember when I first allowed the question to form that perhaps God was not a Republican. :) I was at the music festival Ichthus, reading a Christian Rock magazine. The editorial was written by a man who was obviously passionate about Christ, but he was criticizing the Republican administration for its lack of concern for the poor. I remember just staring at the magazine. I couldn't get the two ideas to fit... man of God... not Republican...man of God...not Republican. There may have been smoke coming out my ears as I wrestled with that one.
I had an SDE concerning Hell, and it has remained destabilized ever since. I was in my early twenties and worked with my Dad's carpet company. He had a couple installers and a number of guys from church he had hired as laborers. One of the installers was a guy named Jerry. Jerry was a kind and honest man from what I knew of him. He always put in a good day's work. I knew he had gone through a bad divorce and struggled to gain the acceptance of his son. Sadness hung over him. Through things he said I slowly pieced together that he had never felt truly accepted by anyone. He presumed he would always be rejected. So he drank... a lot. The man was just plain lonely.
His drinking got worse over the years. He literally drank himself to death. We were on a job when my dad told us. We all just shook our heads. It was so sad. Later in conversation, one of the guys from my church said, "The real tragedy here is that Jerry didn't accept Jesus. Now he is in Hell."
I couldn't sleep that night. Was Jerry in Hell? After all of the rejection Jerry had dealt with, did God reject him too? It is the rejection Jerry would have expected from God. This wasn't equating to me. Doesn't God save the day? Doesn't he rescue? Doesn't he love the rejected? Does salvation really come down to a set or right words or beliefs? Doesn't that make God rather small? Isn't he bigger than our expectations?
Steps 8 and 9 - Belief system collapse and belief system rebuild.
The author says that going through these steps requires one to sit with uncertainty. This is a hard place. Most of our faith structures tell us to be certain. However, a willingness to sit in this place allows us to move forward to new paradigms.
Step 11 - Openness to repeat this cycle.
The thing is, once you do this cycle, you never stop doing it. Walter Brueggemann says that this is the only way to truly grow in God because "God will not be settled".
I have read so many authors lately that I cannot remember who to credit this thought to, but the point is that when you "settle" God, when you say "This is who He is", you have created a graven image and have stepped into idolatry. Faith lived out must always be thesis/anti-thesis, because God is always on the move. He will not be calculated and predicted (read Job). The Spirit blows wherever it pleases.
If we are to be followers of Christ, we must be willing to move.