It didn’t happen overnight, but in the end, it was inevitable.
It wasn’t due to a social issue like regressive stances on the LGBTQ community, sexism, racism, or justice. Nor even for nonsensical and harmful theological stances like Biblical literalism, neo-Calvinism, and penal substitutionary atonement. I didn’t “lose my faith” (whatever that means) or “deconstruct” and then discover that my community was unwilling to ask the same questions.1
Quite simply, my evangelical tradition stopped feeding me.
Now hold on a minute. By “feeding” I don’t mean an expectation for the church staff to do my spiritual formation for me. And I definitely don’t mean the typical weak-sauce break up excuses given by people who want to leave their current church in search of a younger, hotter one: “my preacher doesn’t give any meat,” or “the music doesn’t speak to me,” or “they don’t talk enough about ____ [pick a pet issue],” or the infamous “they changed the carpet and moved the altar table made by my great-aunt’s cousin!”
I stopped being fed when I realized the tradition of my youth never had the food to begin with.
I’ve said it before when telling my story and I’ll say it again: when I look back on the spiritual experience of the first half of my life, I have few regrets; I was taught by God- and people-loving men and women who were doing the best with what they had, using the tools available to them. I obviously felt the Divine move enough through them and into myself that I pursued this calling to begin with. And, for all its faults, my tradition sufficiently furrowed my soul’s field to prepare my heart to receive the Life of Christ. It was enough to keep my marriage, life, and faith intact through infidelity, failure, and confusion. And it’s been enough for many of my friends, family, and people much smarter than me. But not for me. Like a belly-button, it is proof of past nourishment I simply outgrew: not because I’m too good for it, but because it’s no longer able to offer what I need to make it through the day.
I say my departure from evangelicalism was “inevitable” because all major life changes seem so in hindsight.2 When looking back, we can see the breadcrumbs lining the path to our current place, even if in the moment we felt lost in the woods. It was a combination of a thousand small moments, personality quirks, and academic interests that led me here.
By now you might be wondering where exactly here is.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to say because the here in which I currently reside is, like God, more of a verb than a noun – more a movement than a settled position – but the essential idea is that I have stumbled into a sacramental awareness.3
I have come to believe – more, I have come to see and experience – the world as infused with the Divine, “Charged with the grandeur of God.” Like Meister Eckhart, I cannot help but see that,
are words of God,
His music, His
Sacred books we are, for the infinite camps in our souls.
Every act reveals God and expands His being.
But for this to happen, for this great gift to be received, I had to lose something. I had to lose God, or at least, God as I understood Him.
For me, “God” had to cease existing in my mind as a personal being, and as you might imagine, this presented a major problem for someone worshiping (and working) in a tradition preoccupied with connecting people’s personal lives to a personal God who personally intervenes in their personal affairs. But I couldn’t get away from my experience; I couldn’t ignore the breadcrumbs on the forest floor leading me down a different, though no less Christian, path. One in which the anthropomorphic masculine God has been submerged into the world I used to believe He created in six literal days.
Yet thankfully, rather than making the Divine more remote, this submersion has put It where Scripture has testified It resides: becoming the Power, the Word, the Mystery by which all things hold together. God has ceased to be something that exists outside of creation to the Thing moving within it, the Energy between these probabilistic wave functions that keeps forcing them to continue collapsing into the the world I see. God is no longer something extrinsic, a Super Being that creates a world out of some need and with whom I need to develop a relationship like any other being, but rather the intrinsic Ground of Being, the canvas on which creation is painted – and also the paint, and the brushes, and the hand moving the brushes . . . .
By coming to see God in all things, I have found The Christ.
Jesus is alive in me, not because I said a few words before baptism or after a sermon, not because I intellectually acquiesced to His existence, but because He was a real human living in a real place, incarnating the Cosmic Christ and calling me to follow His example into union with God. If Jesus indeed touched and united Himself to that Fire at the core of reality, then He indeed lives in me, and you, and everything that is. I no longer have to parse whether Jesus transubstantiates or consubstantiates the bread and wine or whether it’s “just a symbol” of his sacrifice because now Jesus always was and is and will be the bread and wine, the one who has united Himself with the God who permeates all created things. My job is simply to wake up and notice, to receive the good-gift of The Christ I find pressed into my open palm and poured into my open lips, and then to turn and in thanksgiving spend my life offering the rest of life as the Life of Christ.
See, I have neither lost nor abandoned God. I have found God within myself as the Life urging me to pursue shalom for the world; within my wife who daily empties herself for her family and within my children as they learn and grow and push the boundaries of their small but expanding world. To see God within my co-workers (whether they claim Christ or not), who wear themselves out trying to help people who often don’t want it, and then within those very same clients who have no way to work through their pain and addiction other than to storm and rage at me. To see Christ in the autumn trees lining the hilly southern Indiana landscape, looking like so many burning bushes testifying to the Spirit within them, urging me to see the ground their roots drink as holy. Or, as Annie Dillard put it,
“It could be that God has not absconded but spread, as our vision and understanding of the universe have spread, to a fabric of spirit and sense so grand and subtle, so powerful in a new way, that we can only feel blindly of its hem.”
Maybe I should’ve led with that.
1. Though to be honest, all of these things solidified my choice.↩
2. Some Christian Church thinkers try to separate themselves from the broader American Evangelical movement. It’s not.↩
3. I mean “stumbled” quite literally. I am the beneficiary of a long tradition: of patient friends and spiritual directors lightyears ahead of me, of books given at the right time, and of personal bents for which I have little responsibility. I do not believe I’m enlightened, just receptive of the gift as I found it.↩