As I read the translation of the Hebrew prayer to that in English during last week’s Shabbat services (the first I’ve ever attended), I was struck by a particular description of Creator God:
The Source of all Goodness.
During my recent trip to West Virginia, an audience member asked how was it that I went from my position as a fundamentalist evangelical to the the place I am now, a woman of faith.
The easy answer is I prayed my way to this place. The longer answer is explored in the book Where’s Your Jesus Now? (Zondervan).
I no longer refer to myself as Christian. That is not because I stopped believing in the redemptive power of Jesus Christ. In fact, following last night’s election, I responded to a text someone sent me: My trust is build on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.
Yesterday, a dear friend posted on her Facebook: “I voted Biblically. Mostly all red.” To which I responded: “I voted Biblically, too. All blue.”
How is it that two people who share the same faith can come to such a completely different view of the world and our role in it? Surely one of us is wrong, right?
Maybe. Or maybe not.
People have long desired that the Messiah be a political leader. Wasn’t the whole problem with Jesus is that people wanted a Messiah who would cure the ills of their society? A political leader? Didn’t the very same people who condemned Jesus to death do so because he threatened their political positions?
It was through prayer that I began to move away from the misguided belief system that I had been acculturated to as a child growing up in Georgia, as an evangelical living through the killing of Matthew Shepherd.
For many years, I was an ardent devotee of James Dobson and Focus on the Family. We didn’t make much money in those days, but we faithfully gave money to Dobson’s political religious group every month. I bought into the “us” and “them” rhetoric of the evangelical church I attended, and that was reiterated through the daily broadcast and newsletters of Focus on the Family.
I do not condemn the woman I was then. All that was part of my journey as a woman of faith. I found comfort in the inclusivity, in belonging to the club, in the identity of being “that Christian woman.” I needed all that then. The rules. The patriarchy. The structure. It isolated me and protected me from the chaos that had been my youth. There was no mystery to it. Just structure.
But when Matthew Shepherd was killed I had a friend who was dying of AIDS. A childhood friend. A kid, really. My heart was heavy for him. When the diagnosis came he was 25-years old. He would live many more years, but it was not a life free from pain, both physical and emotional. His family didn’t know what to do with him. Some rejected him. Some feared him. Some worried that his eating in their home would spread AIDS to their children. It was all pretty terrible, watching all that brokenness up close and personal. Seeing how a lack of understanding and knowledge can destroy a person, a family, an entire population of people.
I was a Christian in those days, but I was not a woman who lived by faith. I lived in utter fear most of the time. I was afraid of most everything. You name it, I worried about it. I feared it. Most of all, I feared anyone who did not practice their faith the way I did. In our community we referred to such people as “Lost” or “Not real Christians.”
Now there are plenty of people, a lot of my own family, who worry that I am “Lost” or “not a real Christian.”
“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’
‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.
‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’
‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’
‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
Before she passed, my own mother worried that I was no longer “a real Christian.” She came to that conclusion because while on a writing gig in Alabama I attended the Episcopalian church (which I loved by the way).
“You really have become a liberal,” Mama said.
She, like so many others, employed the word “liberal” in a demeaning fashion. My mother meant it to degrade me, to degrade my faith, as a means of telling me that I didn’t practice what the Bible taught. I was no longer a believer. No longer a “good Christian” in my mother’s eyes.
Specifically, she took offense to my position on the LGBTQ community (as do many family members and friends today).
“God will judge this nation because of Gays,” my mother declared more than once.
The irony that a mother who made all sorts of poor decisions in the wake of my father’s death, decisions that were less than moral, decisions that sometimes put herself and her children at risk, was not lost on me.
When I moved to our new community here, I met a lovely gentle man. Dignified. Handsome. Kind. I invited him to come by the house for a glass of wine.
He responded by motioning me close so he could whisper to me: “I am married to a man.”
“So,”I said, “Bring him, too.”
This lovely couple have become some of our dearest friends in our new community. Yet, I know that I have friends in the Evangelical community, loved ones, too, who would shun this couple simply because they would consider them an abomination to the Lord. If those friends, my loved ones, are reading this now, I can tell you what they are thinking is that “Karen is no longer a real Christian. She’s a liberal. She’s forsaken God. The Bible.”
It is true. I no longer believe in the patriarchal God that the Evangelical Church indoctrinated me to believe in. It works well for men, that sort of religion. It keeps men in power. Women are taught that they are not even subjects over their own bodies (which is why in part, Kavanaugh sits on the Supreme Court and Trump is president). Women are taught not to have a role in leadership, other than over other women. Women are taught that the workplace is dangerous, setting women up for sexual sin. Women are taught their role is in the home, raising up children who will continue to support a patriarchal structure that will enable folks like Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, Franklin Graham and others to remain in power.
I consider it all bullshit.
I don’t believe in a heaven with mansions and streets of gold. I don’t believe in a celestial gated community and have no interest in being part of one, anyway. I especially don’t want a mansion next-door to Trump’s tower.
But here’s what I do believe. I believe that God is indeed the Source of all Goodness.
I believe that the Source of all Goodness wants good for us. I believe the Source of all Goodness loves us without reservation, even when our hair falls out and our buttons fall off and our stuffing comes out. I believe the Source of all Goodness loves us best then. I believe we love the Source of All Goodness the best then.
I believe we are our best selves when we quit excluding others in order to exalt ourselves, our positions, our patriarchy, our political systems.
I believe in redemption.
I believe the Source of All Goodness cares most that we are kind and good to one another.
I believe the Source of All Goodness will hold us accountable for our racism, our misogyny, our cruelty, our bigotry, our arrogance, our patriarchy, and our neglect of one another.
I know as soon as some of you read this, you will walk away feeling the need to pray for “your lost sister”. Go right ahead, pray for me.
Praying will do you a world of good.
It may even transform you.
It did me.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of CHRISTIAN BEND (a novel, Mercer University Press).