So... What DO you believe, then?

"It's a great thing when you realize you still have the ability to surprise yourself. It makes you wonder what else you can do that you've forgotten about.- Lester Burnham, American Beauty (Written by Alan Ball)

Most of us spend an enormous amount of time obeying rules we don't really think about. The less we examine them, the stronger they seem to become, and it could be argued that this is how cultures evolve.

More and more often, people ask me about my faith in ways that give me little to no time to give them an accurate idea of what I believe. They'll ask me, in uncomfortable tones, "Well if you don't believe that Jesus is the only way to God, and you're not going to be a priest or a nun... if you're here at the bar/ club/ party but you'll go home and read the Bible... what do you believe?" It's a getting-to-know you question, a version of the, "So what do you do?" part of the discussion.

Now, they mean well when they ask me this question, but what they don't realize is that just because I'm in seminary doesn't mean that I have The Answer. Yes, I am aware that the church has done terrible things, in many cases very very recently. (It's a shame that I share a label--"Christian"-- with these people.) No, I do not hate Muslims or Jews, and I agree that gendered language has no place in discussions of faith. I do not hate my body, nor do I believe that sex is shameful. In fact, I believe it is sacred, holy, part of our joy as human beings. (Why would God NOT want us to enjoy something so enjoyable? Makes no sense! I rest my case, somebody call Sweden and tell them I'd like my award in cash, NOT check.)

Yes, I agree that the word "Christian" has come to mean something that is the opposite of what Christ might have wanted. No, I am not closed-minded, celibate, gay-bashing or a teetotaler, nor did I love W. simply because he said he was a Christian. In fact, I disliked him all the more because of how he furthered the general public's dislike of us.

Most importantly, I am not the only one who is tired of surprising people.

If there was one thing that we can all agree on, it's that Jesus was telling people to think outside the box. To question the assumptions that we don't even realize we labor under. To resist the urge to sell our souls (I think this is what the story about Judas was really about: he sold something he believed in because he was desperate for money, something we're asked to do in one way or another almost daily), to question, to risk, to point out the bullshi*t when we see it and have the courage to live differently.

What is the nature of God to me? I believe God is unending growth. A constant challenge, the opposite of complacency. That's all. There are aspects of the Jewish tradition which equate God with creativity, and I sure wish I could find the paper I wrote about that because I could sound so cool but I can't, so you'll have to take my word for it that greater minds than mine have defined the Divine as the force that makes new things.

I believe that God is made manifest in the urge to push the boundaries and challenge our fears, and so in this sense TME is evidence of God's hand in my life without my ever thinking of it that way. I've surprised myself, and I did it by paying attention to what scares me and then pushing myself to cross the lines that formed much of the structure of who I believed myself to be.

I've surprised myself, and it is indeed a great thing. It's made me wonder what else I can do that I've forgotten about. It's given me faith in myself, something that's been a long time coming. It's made me finally, after years of trying, find the discipline to start working out regularly; it's made me manage my finances more responsibly because I'm no longer coming from a place of fear that I can't keep up somehow. I borrowed my roommate's mandolin and finally, after years of training in music so that others might notice me, I'm finally just making sounds that I want to hear.

A new friend said something to me on Wednesday that stuck with me. He peered at me over the soy sauce and said, "Lauren, do you know what the difference between conceit and confidence is? Conceit comes from a place of not believing you can do a lot; confidence comes from a place of knowing you can."

In my life, I've been guilty of a lot of conceit without knowing how to turn it into confidence-- but TME has surprised me. It's been a manifestation of God in my life that has nothing to do with saving souls, or equating my OK-ness with the blood of an impossibly holy person, or restricting myself based on cultural ideas of how a "religious" person conducts herself. It's given me self-respect, something that is taken away from us all too often, especially as women in a beauty-obsessed culture.

It is my statement of faith.

Unfortunately, there usually isn't time to say all that when someone asks me, "So, what do you believe?"... so I give them this blog address, and just have to hope that they read it.


  1. Preaching to the choir, L.
    This is great. Your best and most powerful post yet, for me anyways.

  2. Together, we are not-lame seminarians!! :)