“He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.”
-Matthew 28:6, NIV
“And now brothers, I will ask you a terrible question, and God knows I ask it also of myself. Is the truth beyond all truths, beyond the stars, just this: that to live without him is the real death, that to die with him the only life?”
-Frederick Buechner, The Magnificent Defeat
Faith is hard. Only half the time I’m convinced of it, if that. I’ve got a heart that beats on hope and love. I’ve got a head that hones in on the flecks and blemishes. My eyes strain to see the Savior through all this smoke. And it’s hard.
Increasingly, over the years, I have lost trust in the leaders of our faith. There was a time when I was a rubber stamp Christian, willing to go to whatever great lengths they called me to. I believed and I believed so strongly that they knew God better than I. Until they spoke me out of existence. Until I heard them bark with such passion and anger about the likes of me, only to then, listlessly, half-heartedly, almost regretfully, mention how God loves me. But just barely.
Once you’ve felt the weight of those words and were hit with how incompatible they were with Immanuel, there’s no going back. But it’s not even that simple. Often, with our imperfect eyes and hearts we confuse Christians with Christ. In the process of parting ways with the Church, a part of you parts ways with God. Your belief becomes much weaker. You need to feed yourself now. Whatever faith there was falls to a limp. Dies a little every day.
And even if you’re not young and gay like myself, you’ve felt, from time to time, that this faith leaves you shortchanged. They pointed you toward the passages that spoke of “flying on the wings of eagles” of miracles and of angels. You were given books on how to be better because once you’re better, God comes nearer. And yet, after the emotional high and delusions wear off, you find yourself in free fall, back into the exact same pit you were in so long ago. And you feel shortchanged.
Your visits to the bookstore may have looked a lot like mine. You picked up another devotional, read through the endorsements looking for someone trusty and then, for a brief few seconds, slipped away into the abyss. You doubt. You wonder whether the whole thing is made up legend. Good story, but false hope. You feel shame at the thoughts that linger and play over and over like a broken record, but you have no ability to stop them. No idea if you should.
On Sunday nights you felt like a fraud as you raised your hands high in praise and worship. You desperately wanted those words to mean something to you. But in the sea of swaying fingers, yours felt still and cold, like a statue. You wrote down prayer requests in your youth group and it was always like a preparation for sin because you knew you would toss the list on your desk to collect dust until the following Wednesday. You were so busy trying to find a spiritual pulse that you had no time or competence to speak on behalf of others.
It took me a long time to realize that maybe it’s because I was living under the wrong God. A God that demanded certainty. Absolute allegiance. A vindictive and petty and arbitrary deity. A God that laid out conditions and contracts and asked for a signature right this minute. He wore evangelical attire with beach blond hair and bleached white teeth. He followed us around like a vigilante and we were all the bad guys. I couldn’t bear that kind of guilt. That kind of fear. It was too heavy. Especially with how outspoken they were about my guilt. I felt like I was either in his cross hairs or completely ignorable. So I’ve run away.
But now, it seems, I’m back. Yet it’s different than before.
Unwrapping this Book and my memories and still fresh wounds has been a liberating and taxing experience. Sometimes, it feels like my faith relies wholly on me because I can’t trust them. Sometimes it feels like I am hanging by the thinnest thread wearing the heaviest boots. I feel like I have to figure out doctrine and right practice and where to stand on this and that and what it means to interpret scripture, what it means to interpret the Church.
And it all becomes too much. Too confusing to be real.
This morning, I look out my window at my beautiful lovely Minnesota and I see fresh resurrection happening. I feel the tick up in the temperature and I hear birds again. Bunnies are skittering here and there and the trees have this quiet aura that makes you think they are about to burst out green at any moment. I see resurrection happening all around me.
And I think about all my friends. The rogue alcoholic since his teenage years, stopping midway through his college semester to check into a rehab facility. I think of my never-known-God friend rifling through every Bible story to better understand how this whole thing works, she’s now one of the most spiritual people I know. I think of my friend finding faith after parental abandonment and minority status, able to walk into an almost all white church and feel seen by only God.
And I think about what it means to believe He came back.
Forget the theology and the denominations and the Eucharist and the dogma, but what does it mean to me if I can scrounge up a mustard seed of faith that this man God came back. That’s all. Just the God resurrection. Just a tiny hope like a flickering flame. Does that make me a believer?
It’s been hitting me lately that behind the sparkling smiles and glassy eyes and arms raised high, you, me, all of us, are hanging by a shoestring. Hanging on this moment. Hanging on this emergence from the grave. Hanging on a persuasion of the mind and heart. Your life hangs on this.
Yet, somehow, that’s comforting.
Because I see resurrection all the time. I see renewal. I see things getting better and changing year after year like winter to spring. Mixing more with the water. The shadows becoming thinner and thinner. And belief in the God of renewal, the God of Spring, becomes compelling. Enrapturing.
That revival, that return to what once was, that is what this Easter means for me. It means He came back. It means that even if I don’t understand a lot of things about Him, even if half of the time He feels fictional, even if I fall so far short, He still came back for me. And that’s something I can hang on to.