Sometimes I struggle

At home, I open the good Christian workbook that the church of Christ minister gave me. The introduction reads, “No subject or principle bears upon the Christian’s life more than sin.” It provides a laundry list of Biblical references to sin and Satan with bits of interpretation. Sin is a “deceitful force” (Hebrews 3:13) that “kills the sense of shame” (Philippians 3:19) and “pays wages” (Romans 6:23). Satan is a “coward” (James 4:7) and “father of lies” (John 8:44) who “does not appear as he really is” (2 Corinthians 11:14). I go over those pages again and again.

In the middle of the night, when I can’t get back to sleep, my thoughts turn to the Bible. I found the primary message of the New Testament gospels to be so much simpler than I had assumed before I began this journey; Jesus says the ultimate goal is to love ourselves and each other and be joyful.

The next morning, when I return to my workbook, this pops out: those in the world are of the devil until they obey the gospel. Is it possible that the “devil” isn’t some crazy boogeyman lurking in a dark alley, but the force inside ourselves that tells us we aren’t good enough, that we don’t deserve this life we’ve been given, that we have no right to experience joy? How can we love anyone else when we can’t love ourselves? A voice deep inside me shouts, “Yes, that’s it!”

With fresh eyes, I go back over the workbook’s references to sin. It says the meaning of sin most commonly used in the Bible is “to miss the mark.” This clicks. Sin is the voice inside my head that prevents me from hitting the bull’s-eye of love and joy. The booze or the sex or the drugs—those aren’t the sins. Those are just the tools a person might use to perpetuate the missing of the mark, the addictions we might put in place of the struggle to find the love and joy. They could just as easily be television or video games or food. They could be anything we use to anesthetize ourselves, hoping to stop the throbbing pain of unworthiness and put off finding the bravery to accept and love ourselves so that we can share that love with others.

So maybe this interpretation of “sin” is right, or maybe it’s wrong. That’s the thing about the Bible: some people understand what’s written one way and others see it another.

The ex-cop Baptist minister said he wanted to clarify something about “judgment day.” Some people think that when Jesus comes back, he will judge every soul that ever walked the earth to decide who is saved. This is incorrect, he said. Rather, those who have already secured eternal salvation will be listed in the “Book of Life.” Jesus will only judge those whose names do not appear in the “Book of Life.” Everyone in the congregation nods, but I feel like standing up and saying, “Hey, minister, here’s another idea: what if everyone who’s ever lived will be listed in the Book of Life? What if that’s the whole point Jesus was trying to make? That each of us is inherently valuable by virtue of having lived? I mean, it is called the book of LIFE. Maybe Jesus would have us stop obsessing about living forever and focus on the miraculous gift of being alive right now. If we did that, we might cultivate a life filled with joy and love and compassion.” Then I would sit back down and shrug. “Just another possibility,” I would say.

I try to enter each church with an open mind, but sometimes I struggle. The last stop on my list of fundamental churches is listed as “Baptist/disciples of Christ.” Double whammy, I think. On my drive there, I can feel my defenses forming. As I park, I feel them going up. I approach the door to the pretty brick church, and mentally prepare: judge not, I tell myself. I take a deep breath and walk in.

I’m greeted by the most unexpected sight: a female preacher and pews filled with old academics and artsy-types. Here’s a church that also considers itself true to the essential teachings of Jesus, only it takes a different approach to its fundamentals. I feel my shoulders relax, and I can’t help but smile.

Just when I think I have it figured out, it’s time to throw my assumptions out the window.


33 thoughts on “Sometimes I struggle

  1. As I suggested at the beginning of your journey, you could very easily end your journey just as confused , but likely more confused than you were at the beginning. Every congregation you visit wouldn’t be in existence if the majority of members didn’t feel its belief system wasn’t correct. The measuring stick has to be scriptural. So if you haven’t read the scriptures enough to assess if the churches you visit are congruent with scripture, how can you judge? This is actually where your search must start or you are on a snipe hunt without knowing what a snipe looks like. The good thing about your quest is your brain is working and you are questioning both religion and your own human nature.
    You can spend a lifetime evaluating both!

    • I’d like to respectfully disagree with James above. He seems to be telling Corinna the “right way” to go about her quest. Why does James get to decide that reading the scriptures before visiting churches is the right way? Who says the measuring stick has to be scriptural? It’s the same thing Corinna and many of us find when we attend churches — this church says infant baptism is the “right way” and that church says adult baptism is the right way. Each side has scripture to back them up. But then the other side says, “They’re interpreting the scripture wrong.” Gaaahhhh. There’s no way out of that tangle, there’s only Us and Them — the sides stand on opposite sides of the room with their arms folded, certain they are Right and the other side is Wrong. And guess who’s the only happy one: the devil. Because we’re wasting time that could be spent loving, finding common ground, bearing each other’s burdens. Does my disagreement with James mean that I’ve just done what I lament? Should I delete this post and keep my mouth shut?

      • Hi Shelley, I think you’ve hit on the heart of the matter: how do we have differences of opinion without promoting the divisions that religion is meant to heal? Is it just a matter of how we speak our truth? I mean, it’s one thing to say, “This is right, and this is wrong!” and another to say, “I don’t know what’s “right” but this is what I feel in my heart…” Oh, wise ones, what say you? Also, thanks for the link. I really enjoyed reading that Huffington Post piece.

        • Don’t you think an omnipotent God who supposedly can do all things SHOULD be a bit more of an effective communicator, able to clearly and effectively communicate his will to humanity?

          Instead, the Bible itself is full of TONS of contradictory concepts on even the most important basic concepts, eg Paul’s claiming that salvation is a gift not earned by works or deeds, vs Jesus’ words of “faith without works is dead”. So which is it? Why would God allow his supposed message to be corrupted in that manner? Or is Satan (oh, and Adam) supposed to take the blame for this one, too?

          Hence, the Bible is ripe for cherry-picking, and various religions righteously argue about who has the “right” answer as to how to make God happy, accusing the others of spreading false teachings. Fact is, they all are trying to resolve the unresolvable discrepancies, and hence why they’ve been reduced to arguing about how many (imaginary) angels can dance on the head of a pin….

          • @Dave: They all have their own beliefs and interpretation of the bible. If they read the bible they should have known that without the Wholy Ghost, you never can understand the bible.

            • It’s amazing how it all goes round and round. Many years ago my mother’s sister who was my Catholic godmother took me shopping in a toy store for my birthday. I could choose anything I wanted. I got delighted by this black metal container with slits all along the side. I could place a picture of a boy riding a bicycle inside of it and twirl it on a stick. As the metal container twirled and I looked through the slots I could create the illusion that the cyclist was riding faster and faster around the circle. It was great fun. As I read all these comments on Corinna’s journey I often feel like I’m looking through those slots at the cyclist. Everybody’s moving but are we really going anywhere. If not, the illusion is great fun.

          • If read in context, the Bible does not contradict itself. Individual verses read by themselves may appear that way, but if you really search the text, you will find that there are no contradictions. If one is a Christian, their life should demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) which are evidenced in our deeds or “good works”. If there is no fruit, one’s true conversion should be looked at. It’s easy to say the “sinner’s prayer” and not really mean it. Hence, the words “faith without works is dead” James 2:20 (BTW, these words are from James) Faith and deeds are as essential to each other as the body and the spirit. True faith continually contributes to spiritual growth and development.

            If works are what gets a person to Heaven, explain how one of the thieves on the cross next to Jesus confessed and Jesus told him that today he would be with Him in paradise (Luke 23:42-43). There was no time for this man to do good works.

            I agree that there are gray areas in the Bible that are left up to one’s personal convictions, but many things are black and white if read throroughly and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Someday, we’ll all know the whole truth.

            • Jo L, Did Jesus say “Truly I say to you, Today you will be with me in paradise” Or “Truly I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise.”? Remember that punctuation was not provided in the early texts and had to be supplied by the translator(s), so it could be either way. JWs opt for Jesus saying “Truly I say to you today, you will be with me in paradise.” Why? Well, think about it. Jesus was dead and in his tomb for parts of three days, and then he didn’t ascend to heaven until 40 days after his resurrection. So, Jesus himself did not go to heaven the very day he died! Besides that, a study of the New Testament reveals that there are definite requirements necessary for one to go to heaven, and this thief didn’t qualify for a heavenly position where he would “rule with Christ.” But, the scriptures do promise that there will be a resurrection of BOTH the righteous and the unrighteous at Acts 24:15 on this earth where mankind will grow to perfection, thus fulfilling God’s original purpose for the earth–to have it inhabited and filled with righteous humankind. See also John 5:28,29. Also, Ps. 37:29 tells where these righteous ones (who do not rule in heaven with Christ) will live forever. Jesus promised the “evildoer” that day that he would be in paradise, bit that won’t be until “resurrection day” (read John 11 and especially verse 24 in the account of Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus who died and was resurrected by Jesus 4 days later. JWs believe the paradise Jesus promised is the promised righteous new world that Jesus will rule over as king. Just something to think about.

    • I was raised my whole life in church and basically believed the way that I did because my parents and my church told me what to believe. It wasn’t until I went to college and was faced with many other beliefs (or lack thereof) that I was forced to search the Scriptures myself and figure out what my beliefs were based on. You can’t just assume that every church you walk into it preaching the truth. You need to search the Scriptures for yourself and not just rely on a person with a title to tell you what Jesus says about certain things. Having good mushy feelings after hearing a sermon is not the “measuring stick” for the truth. Many times, the truth is convicting and very uncomfortable.

  2. Corinna, I think your struggle with the words of that first preacher delivered you to a wonderful place where Jesus’ simple message of love could blow away the the condemnatory ideas that were being spoken. It never fails to amaze me how some pastors seem to have it all worked out like an accountant’s balance sheet. Bad deeds outnumber good deeds? Uh-oh, down the shute you go! But in a way, don’t those accountancy ideas mirror our day-to-day life in the world? We have sayings like “You get what you pay for.” Or “No pain, no gain.” The idea that God’s love (grace) is a free gift and all you need to do is accept it with gratitude (gracias) is hard to understand because that’s not what we usually encounter in our day-to-day life. I think the realization of this grace works on a person like yeast works on bread. You are engaged in a serious theological inquiry. Keep going.

  3. Yes, we do need to accept God’s forgiveness. If Jesus paid the price for our sin, then we need to receive the validation that God has given us and quit judging ourselves so harshly. Then we will be more joyful and also quit judging others who are less than perfect. That includes everyone, right? We are all less than perfect. Thank goodness that the Bible tells us that God’s mercies are new every morning. That helps me face each day with new joy.

  4. I’m glad you walked into another church that seems more joyful. I was just about to say, “Get out of that stinkin’ thinkin’ and go to a more joyful church.” And you did. That’s the problem with holding the scriptures up as the measuring rod. It is what each one of those churches did at one time and they believed they interpreted it correctly. The only good thing about realizing that you missed the mark (sinned) is that you can make another choice. So much is about consciousness: What you think about you bring about. Change your thinking change your life. It’s really quite simple but too many “Christians” have made it nitpickingly complicated. On to the next. Loving the journey with you and all the travelers you have collected on the way.

  5. Your entry is poignantly honest and very touching. I agree with you, the devil is the force that speaks in our heads, condemning us. He is also the voice that says do not trust God; God is not good; those who believe are naïve fools. He’s not that powerful – nothing compared to God – but oh so powerful to confuse us and hold us in bondage to bad thought patterns, particularly about ourselves. You know what? I find that it takes a really long time to accept Jesus’ love and to love yourself. I don’t know why it is so hard. But I know Jesus wants that for us and is grieved when we can’t see it. And certainly he wants us to love others.

    There’s one other thing Jesus wants for us and that is to love God. It’s a two-part thing: loving God with all our heart and mind, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. He said he came from heaven to show us God. He opens us up to the spiritual side. There’s a lot of mystery there, thus, so many different approaches to the one Bible. How can anyone have it totally right? We see “dimly” from this side of life, and faith is required.

    I think this life, to Jesus, is so very valuable. He created it. It means everything to him. He indicates that it is only the beginning, a tiny part of an endless continuum. So it looks like ___/_________________________________________________(on and on)

    I love how you would love to stand up and give “just another possibility.” Can I say to you, thanks for listening to all these folks? How very respectful of you. I hope you feel listened to as well.

    • Ditto to Ginger’s remarks. Thanks for adding the part about loving God. Corinna, you asked ‘how can we love others if we don’t love ourselves?’ I don’t know that we need to love ourselves in order to love others, but we do need to know that we are loved–which frees us to love in response. My head (and my ‘doctrine’) told me that God loved me, but I was never free to truly love until I experienced his love. Knowing that God loves me for real enables me to know that I am of worth and value to him. John wrote in his letter (1 John 4): “We love because he first loved us.” I suppose that means that I love myself…..
      btw, James’ (1st comment) statement about the need for reading the Bible has much practical merit. You’ve been going to all these “fundamental” churches that claim the Bible as their guide. Knowing it yourself a bit better will help you figure out if they truly honor the Scriptures or are simply full of BS. Your wide-ranging exposure to all these churches–if it doesn’t confuse you from time to time, Corinna–will certainly shake up your assumptions! My own journey has been a very “unassuming” life–and I don’t mean full of humility!

  6. I read your essay and think about sin and the sinful sense. I’m preparing for a workshop at a University Health Fair. My carpenter friend who has a heart of gold, who has helped me with many projects around the house tells me he doesn’t really like that “churchy churchy” music we play at services.

    Just to clarify, it’s not sappy stuff like Christian pop or rock. I see it as beautiful music with a very upbeat tune, almost a march behind words like

    “God is my Victory, Victory, Victory
    That cannot be denied
    God is my Victory, Victory, Victory
    I know He’s at my side
    God is my Victory, Victory, Victory
    I cannot know defeat,
    His Love makes me complete,
    His Mind my very own,
    His wisdom doth atone.”

    So I’m thinking how can I convey to others what I once felt about Christianity, before I found my own church home where we can talk about Buddha, Christ and the Divine Feminine all in one sermon. So here’s text from one power-point slide:

    On the screen you see references to Oracles at Delphi, Pythagorean Brotherhood, Druid priests, School of Alexandria; schools developed by spiritual adepts to train their initiates. In comes Beloved Jesus, with his teaching for the masses. Have any of you ever felt a distaste for today’s Christianity?
      In 325 A.D. Constantine , the Emperor of Rome wanted to consolidate his power in Christianity. However, he waited until his death bed to be baptized because he felt it would wipe away his sin, allowing him to enter heaven. He had executed both his wife and one of his sons; and any Christians that publically disagreed with him.
      Dressed as Christian leader, Constantinople greeted early Christian Bishops in what is known as the Council of Nicaea. He tyrannically steered the course of Christian doctrine in way that was obviously not inspired by God. He dealt the first blow against the teaching of reincarnation and Christian mysticism. Mysticism is a paradigm where we experience the Kingdom of God on earth rather than being saved by Jesus and unconditionally entering heaven at our death.
      The mystery schools fell outside Constantine ’s new doctrine. Further attacks would be waged against what Beloved Jesus teachings truly represented. Many would suffer through the dark ages.

    • I love your carpenter friend’s honesty and his courage to share his thoughts with you. I enjoyed your response, as well, as you consider your presentation and your church. How often we want others to see things through our eyes. How impossible that is. It took me a long time as a “wisdom” teacher to realize that my role wasn’t to teach others what I know but, instead, to facilitate the students to a knowing of their own essence and to express it without fear and with love. It’s a little harder to do because we so want them to see it and hear it in the same way we do and they can’t because they are their own unique expression of God. The most I can do is create a mental template to work from and then let them have a go at it. What we soon come to see is that we are all creating a tapestry in the One Life we call God.

    • Found some kind of freudian slip here: Constantinople should read Constantine in the paragraph beginning “Dressed as a Christian Leader”. Like Church Lady of Saturday Night live, I might be “not ready for prime time”. So I’ll leave the true blogging to Corinna.

  7. This is GOOD Frank: “my role wasn’t to teach others what I know but, instead, to facilitate the students to a knowing of their own essence and to express it without fear and with love.” That, in my opinion, is what a good teacher does. Haven’t we all had the experience of a “Eureka!~” moment, when something clicked? well, in many cases, I was TOLD that very thing many times before, but until it came home to me personally, I never really learned it. My best teachers have been the ones who asked the right questions, rather than the ones who had all the answers.

  8. Unlike many others who have replied to several of your blog entries I have nothing too which I want t persuade you or teach others. I just want to thank you for write so well and honestly. I have read everything to this point int he last two days and find myself anxious to read more. I have spent many years singing in various Protestant churches (Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian) because I love to sing and because I don’t know what I believe. I still don’t know what I believe. Composting seems to be a good metaphor for it, though. I still love to sing. Thank you for writing.

  9. I think your thoughts hugely echo what I believe and feel and I am part of the Liberal Judaism movement, often called Progressive, etc, in the US. I look forward to reading your thoughts on Judaism if and when you get to it.

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