Saturday, March 7, 2009

Telling My Story

At church, we are doing a study over Lent called "Untapped Miracles for Tapped Out Christians" by David Mains.  It isn't bad but up until this week, it just hasn't really been grabbing me (some studies just come at the right time, not so much with others).  This week, it has really hit me between the eyes - the overall theme is "Telling Our Stories" and how sharing God's impact in our lives can have a huge impact on others.

This is such a weak spot for me.  I just don't feel comfortable talking about my faith for several reasons.  The biggest one, I think, is that I am going to offend someone (I know, cowardly in a Christian).  I also worry that if I come across as lame or inconsistent or unconvincing and that I might actually push someone away from faith or misrepresent God.  There isn't a week that goes by that there isn't a time that I feel like I had an opportunity to share faith with someone else and I have somehow failed.

It's strange but even as the child of a minister and a wife who had all the qualifications except for the ordination, we really didn't talk about God at home much.   My mom read the Bible to us every night, we said grace, we did devotions as a family and my parents both prayed and prayed and prayed but we didn't see prayer that wasn't planned from a liturgy and there really wasn't all that much discussion.  We didn't talk about why we believe what we believe or why our faith isn't just a crutch, like so many around us believed.  I think we were so afraid of offending anyone.  My parents were both very actively involved in social justice activities and unfortunately, in that environment, you get a combination of devout Christians and left-wing atheists who can be downright hostile to faith.

I also grew up in an environment where we were almost always the only Christians.   I don't remember any friends in public school who were Christians.  It didn't help that we went to a church that wasn't local so the kids we saw there on Sunday morning were not the kids we saw at school.  It also didn't help that we went to dying inner-city churches and, for my American friends, inner city churches in the big cities here are almost all dying unless they are really fundamentalist and that isn't my scene either.  The only really big church that I can remember that was in our area was extreme to say the least - they used to hand our vicious tracts that were violently anti-Catholic, anti-homosexual and their members wouldn't allow their children to watch Sesame Street because all muppets were "demons" and Santa and the Easter Bunny were handmaids of satan.  (For a church that was into telling everyone else how to behave, they also seemed to have an unusually high birth rate among unmarrieds and affairs that tore families apart).  There just didn't seem to be anyone "like us" and any mention of our faith to those around us would either end up in our being patronized as being somehow weak for believing in God or being condemned to hell because we didn't follow the exact ideas of the local fundy church.  Because we didn't talk about faith, we always felt completely lost in terms of how to respond.

Honestly, I don't remember having any Christian friends until university.  That came as a real relief to me.  Most people around me were atheists or agnostics but at least there were a few Christians around me and they weren't seen as being weird or stupid.  That is really when my faith life started to ignite and it has been growing ever since.  Each new church and each new step in our lives has brought us closer in a relationship with God and to feeling that our faith needs to be a foundational element of our lives (Michael and I are really united in this).

So, here's goes.  I think this is a good place to start trying to talk about what I believe and my experiences of God in my life.  If you aren't interested or might be offended, stop reading now.  For those who read on, thanks for this chance.  Here's my story.  I hope I don't misrepresent God and if I don't sound very convincing, please forgive me because I really am sharing from my heart.

I believe in a loving, compassionate, generous God.  He created our universe (I don't personally care whether it was with a "Big Bang", in seven days or in some other way that we don't yet know - for me, it's the fact of a creator rather than the means of creation being achieved).  I can not believe that all of the diversity and beauty and goodness that we are surrounded by was a random event or some kind of molecular accident.  I was out walking the dogs today in the early morning.  It was dewy and slightly foggy and the air was clear.  The sun was rising in the east and the light coming through the slight fog gave everything a magical aura - I can't believe that is random.  I ran into a friend I haven't seen in a long time and we had a great visit.  A God with imagination and creativity and love created my world.  

I have not had a "road to Damascus" conversion experience.  I have felt a gradually growing sense of God's presence in my life.  I love reading scripture and the more I read and study, the more the subtlety and complexity and genius of it as a text shines through to me.  I don't believe that it is the ramblings of different confused or misinformed minds.  I have seen evidence of God in my life - while they are not stories that will be greatly moving to others and I hesitate to share them because they mean so much to mean and it is impossible to voice them with they power they had for me, on two occasions, I believe that I actually heard the voice of God in moments of greatest suffering and on more occasions than I can count, there have been small miracles that have come when I most need them.  I have seen God in the good works of others, in kindness, generosity and wisdom, particularly when it comes from the most unexpected sources.  I have seen evidence that is very clear to me of God trying to teach me something - lessons that are so relevant to my current struggles.  I have seen too many coincidences to believe that they are merely random happenings.

I do not believe in God because I am weak and need a crutch.  In our current world, I think that it is actually easier to be agnostic than anything else - you don't risk the poisonous attacks that are now aimed at Christians?  I counter that with this - why would I choose to believe in something that in so many circles makes me an outcast?  Why would I choose something that puts demands on me and takes up my time and sets limits on my life?  That said, I actually find those limits liberating and the time I commit to my faith gives my life meaning.  I love being a Christian, I love being a member of the family of Christ and I love knowing that there is a Father who loves me with a love that goes beyond all understanding.  

I am sorry if I offend anyone here and to my non-Christian friends, as my friends, you have always respected the place my faith plays in my life and I truly appreciate that.  For all of the friends in my life who are not Christians, all I ask is that you pay me the respect of asking what I believe instead of lumping me in with "all Christians".  I had that happen at work this week and it made me very uncomfortable.  We have a group of very, very conservative Christian families at our school and they raised objections (which ended up being legitimate) to a film that our grade 2's were going to be seeing at the Science Centre.  At first, it seemed like a case of bigotry and fear of all that is different and one of the other staff at the school very flippantly said to me, "Can you explain this all to me?  You are like those people, you should be able to explain all of this."  No, in fact, I am not like those people (although in the end, I came to the conclusion that they were entirely correct in this situation).  I am not like the evangelists on t.v. who have turned what might have started as legitimate faith into a quest for fame and money and attention.  I am not a Christian who justifies the oppression of groups that are not Christian for the sake of punishing those who are not like me.  I am not afraid of other faiths or of my child being exposed to other beliefs (in fact, in my experience, anyway, encountering other faiths often can strengthen our own unless our faith was very weak in the first place).  I will never vote for ultra-conservative politicians just because they call themselves Christians - I don't believe that religion justifies war, bullying or spending all of a country's money on the military when Africa is being torn apart by AIDS and we do nothing and in our own country, children are going to bed hungry, largely because the rich find arguments for not having an obligation to care for those who have less.  Don't hold me responsible for the hypocrisy of some who call themselves Christians - I can't promise that I won't make mistakes and at times, be inconsistent myself but I am trying and my faith is the most important part of my life and shapes everything I do and everything I believe. 

Thanks be to God for all of His rich blessings to us.


  1. I loved reading your story Sarah! Thanks for sharing it - I'm also hesitant to talk about my faith a lot. But I'm learning and growing and maybe one day I will be in a place where I'm comfortable doing that. See you on Bible study blog! :)

  2. There is so much I want to say to this... But two main things.

    First is that, as one of your friends who is not religious, I feel it important to note that not all who live a more secular life are scornful or dismissive of those who live by religious teachings. In fact,I have to say I avoid the word atheist because it seems most used by those who are vehement about rejecting religion, which I am not impressed by. I think that people's religious beliefs are to be respected as a matter of not only personal choice, but in most cases, also a strong conviction that is not, hopefully, come by without some thinking about themselves and who they want to be and how they want to live. Any time someone has seriously thought about that, it is likely to make them a better person, and should be saluted. People will also argue that religion has been bent and manipulated by many people to suit their own agendas and push forward evidence of things that are untrue or dangerous. The same has been done with scientific study and statistics. It doesn't mean it should be thrown out altogether, it means that you have to be careful in your assessment of what you read and are told, in whom to follow and trust as a guide through the confusing body of writings, and always check with your own sense, be it with your values or with common sense. Nothing is perfect, but ideally, people think and make choices about their internal life that make sense for them, and no one else gets to criticize that.

    Secondly, and maybe more importantly on a personal level - your blog and this post in particular is a real eye-opener for me, and makes me rethink myself a bit. Why? I would have called myself a good friend, consider you one of my best friends. so how did I not realize what a major role your faith plays in your everyday life and thinking? I knew that it was part of your life, that you went to church even after leaving home in those undergrad years when so much can fall by the wayside, so I knew it was important to you. But I had no idea how much it informed your other decisions, how much your really thought about it beyond going to classes and services. I wonder now how I can think I was a good friend when you haven't felt that you could talk to me about something so close to your heart. It's not something I would have asked about, partly because I didn't know it was so ingrained in everything you do, and partly because it seems personal - too personal, really, as personal and prying as, say, asking you about your sex life, because it is about your relationship with your god. But wow, I'm glad you started talking about this here so I can better understand.