I realize that I use a lot of religious language in my writing and it really only makes sense to Christians. However, many of my friends do not come from any organized spiritual or religious tradition to speak of and a couple of them have told me they are now reading my blog.
During the last year I went through an existential crisis and crisis of faith. After years of certainty I did not know what I truly believed about God and faith. This led me to question basically every major decision of my life. I also wondered what my life would look like if I left Christianity. This was an incredibly painful and scary process. I wanted to attempt to explain what happened last year with me in a way that people with no connection to Christianity or any organized faith could understand.
To this end, I want to use a scene from a movie as a window into what I just went through.
A few months ago I re-watched Fight Club. I was shocked as a scene from the movie that centered around a conversation between the Narrator and Tyler Durden essentially mirrored the conversation I was having with God. Not only did watching this scene encourage me to go farther in questioning my faith than I ever had before in my life, but as I look back even the whole scene fits what I experienced with God after I did continue to question and think about my faith.
Before delving into the scene I should probably provide a little background information on me so it makes more sense. Most of my life I have lived a double-life. Most of my friends, especially those who met me in high school, (and may be tuning in for the first time) really have no clue who I am. While I have written extensively about a lot of what’s really gone on in my life there are just a few central things you need to know about me for me to explain the last year and a half. (I’ve provided links to where I talk about this stuff in more detail.)
- While our outside appearance was carefully maintained at any cost, my home was religious, dysfunctional and abusive.
- One of the ways I coped with what went on in my home was by hiding. I did this by keeping people at a distance and isolating, often burying myself in books, a fantasy world, video-games or pornography.
- While I was a self-declared Christian and went to college to study ministry I always feared God hated me. This was the most reasonable explanation of my family life, my diagnosis with arthritis, and God’s silence. I never explored this fear and I eventually related to God like I related to my father: I tried to be good enough to not get hit.
- I was constantly trying to find out what God’s plan for my life was and obey it. Following God’s plan for my life was the reason I gave up on my plans to enter the military and instead went to a private religious school to study the Bible.
- I own the fact that I have been incredibly legalistic, self-righteous, duplicitous, and hypocritical and the fact that my “faith” was a very performance based understanding of how one relates to God. In short, I never truly followed Jesus thought I claimed that I was.
- Most recently, I became convinced that it was the will of God for me to pursue a relationship with my ex-girlfriend and attend a religious graduate school for more training. In the span of a few short months my Ex broke up with me, I was incredibly dissatisfied with seminary, and for the first time I started dealing with the abuse in my family.
- Looking back I saw most major seasons of my life marked by pain and disappointment. This made me question if all of my religious performance worth it. Additionally, my understanding of faith was clearly failing me but it was all I had ever known. At the time it appeared the two options I had were a) persist in my so-called-faith, try harder and hope it worked out better the next time (I had done so before, and it never worked out.) or b) quit religion all together (a truly scary prospect since I had bet my life on God and had no tangible skills to make a living).
Now onto the real content of this post…
First, let’s watch the scene together…
Second, I want to just creatively edit the dialogue of this scene, putting myself, God and some other generic Christians in it [and add some commentary in italics where appropriate] so you get what happened this last year and how deeply I connected with it.
- INT. STOLEN CAR – MOVING – LATER
- RAIN GUSHES down. KEVIN stews, silent. The car moves down
- A HIGHWAY, intermittently illuminated by oncoming headlights.
JESUS: Something on your mind Dear?
- JESUS shrugs; turns on the RADIO, ignores KEVIN.
KEVIN: Alright yeah. Why did everything fall apart this year?
CHRISITIAN #1 and CHRISTIAN #2 (together): The first rule of Christianity is you do not question God.
JESUS: What are you talking about?
KEVIN: If you had planned for my Ex to break up with me and to have me go to a seminary I would hate all along, why didn’t you include me in the beginning? Why should I stay within Christianity and keep following you if things keep ending up like this?
JESUS: Christianity was the beginning. Now it’s out of the church and there’s a name for it…faith.
KEVIN: I have been obedient to following you since high school, no matter the cost. Do you remember that? I have given up so much for you. You should give something to me once in a while!
JESUS: Is this about you and me?
[My religion really was not about me and Jesus. My faith was about me being good and getting rewarded or at least being good enough not to get punished by God. I had learned to relate to God like I had learned to relate to my father: I tried to be good enough not to get hit.]
KEVIN: Yeah! I thought if you did what you asked of me, at some point and time, things would pan out for me. That’s the deal.
JESUS: You’re missing the point. I do not operate like that. The world does not revolve around you. My plans are bigger than making sure you get what you feel you deserve and are comfortable. You are not special.
KEVIN: Fuck that! If your plans involved somehow using my break up and disappointment with school for your purposes you should have told me! You shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up like that!
- They almost have a car accident.
KEVIN: Hey Jesus! Dammit Jesus!
JESUS: What do you want? A statement of purpose? Should I email you? Should I put this on your action item list?
[Most of my life I have striven to have everything laid out in a logical manner, I have sought to understand everything and desired to live in very structured and predictable environments. This desire for certainty comes from a deep place in me where from my home I felt anything that was uncertain was automatically dangerous. This extended to my faith as well and my faith left little if any room for mystery. This includes my faith. I wanted to know exactly what God wanted of me, so I do exactly that, and be 100% certain I was “good” and would not get punished.
In short, I truly did want an action item list. I would have been very happy to receive and email from God itemizing all the good deed He wanted me to do that day so I could be sure to do them all and feel safe, if only for that day.
The problem is that God in my experience, or in my reading of the Bible, does not work like that.]
KEVIN: Ah Look…
JESUS: You decide your own level of involvement!
[Following Jesus has always been an at will thing. Some people get to a certain place in their faith and want out, others will follow Jesus no matter what. We truly decide how far we are willing to follow Jesus.]
KEVIN: I will! I want to know certain things…
[This was about the time I was emboldened to really question God and explore my fear that God hated me. Instead of just saying, “Faith is bullshit” and walking away – which I was sorely tempted to do – I decided to go deeper and further.]
CHRISTIAN #1 Well you see in Emerging Church, they are orthodox but also in touch with the culture. For example, we have the worship leaders in the back to take the focus off the worship leaders…
CHRISTIAN #2 Many medieval theologians asked if people could do things to please God, they talked about righteous acts receiving half-merits or full-merits. But adding in Calvin’s treatise on pre-destination…
KEVIN: (to CHRISTIAN #1 and CHRISTIAN #2) Shut up!
[I have been deeply sickened by a lot of the conversation here at my Christian grad school. The vast majority of it is about Christians and Christian things and this conversation fails to connect with the real world beyond the gated Christian clubs we call churches. The standard fare of conversation here was also of absolutely no use to me as I questioned God and struggled with faith. I realize in much of my blog I’ve contributed to this.]
KEVIN: (to JESUS) I want to know what you’re thinking.
[Again, I really wanted to know where God was at and what His plan was for my life, if in fact He had one. Why had He stood silent while the abuse went down in my home? Why had He not healed my arthritis? Why did following His will lead me to a massive heartbreak and disappointment…again? If God loved me, was powerful to act on my behalf, and had a plan for my life, He sure had a strange way of showing it.
JESUS: Fuck what you know! You need to forget about what you know. That’s your problem. Forget about what you think you know about life, about faith, about friendship, and especially about you and me.
[What I thought I knew truly was my problem. I really did need to forget many mistaken beliefs I had about faith, life, and myself.
Many of my beliefs about myself, relationships, and this world were beliefs that had helped me navigate my home environment. These beliefs were creative ways to think in order to survive and they did their job. I did not kill myself and I made it to adulthood. However, I had left that home environment long ago and for years these beliefs were no longer necessary. Now they were actually very harmful to having an adult life. In psychological terms, these ways of thinking had become maladaptive beliefs and behaviors.
Additionally, I am certain Jesus hated what I had know about Him and Christianity on two levels. First, my understanding of “faith” was not a true faith. My faith was a burdensome never-ending quest to pleae a God who was never satisfied with me and was always judging me. This is not Jesus. Jesus, I am certain, hated that religion had so thoroughly kept me from experiencing His love. Second, with this destructive understanding of God and faith in hand I claimed to be a Christian and mis-represented Jesus in 1000 and 1 ways. I was also part of and uncritically supportive of a lot of the evils the Church continues to perpetrate to this very day in His name.
Regardless of how much I knew I needed to let go of these beliefs, it was still very scary. This was all I had ever known, and anything unknown or uncertain is automatically equated with pain for me. So I realize I really needed something to push me…]
- JESUS steers the car into the opposite lane, accelerates…
- Opposing HEADLIGHTS get closer fast…
- Through the windshield: oncoming headlights — a TRUCK.
KEVIN: What are you doing?
JESUS: Guys what do you wish you had done before you died?
CHRISTIAN #1: Help victimized women escape sex-trafficking in South East Asia.
CHRISTIAN #2 : Started a church where homeless people were welcome.
[For all my cynicism towards this Christian graduate school, there are some amazing people here who genuinely want to help others.]
- KEVIN points to oncoming cars.
JESUS: And you?
KEVIN: I don’t know…nothing nothing…come on!
- KEVIN fights to turn the wheel, but JESUS uses both hands.
JESUS: You have to know the answer this question! If you were to die right now how would you feel about your life?
KEVIN: I don’t know. I wouldn’t feel anything good about my life!
[In a conversation earlier this year I almost said this exact phrase. At the time I really could not think of anything in my life I was happy about.]
- The oncoming truck HONKS and FLASHES its LIGHTS.
JESUS: Not good enough.
- JESUS keeps heading into oncoming
- At the last moment the truck swerves out of the way.
KEVIN: Jesus Christ! God dammit! Fuck you! Fuck Christianity! Fuck my Ex. I am sick of all your shit.
[At some point and time I was done with what I had called faith. I had no idea what dramatic changes were to come but I was sure what I had known of Christianity was bullshit and I wanted out. My understanding of how religion was supposed to work had failed me too many times for me to keep going forward like it was business as usual.]
JESUS: Okay man…okay….
- JESUS lets go of the wheel.
KEVIN: What? Quit screwing around. Take the wheel.
- Kevin reaches over to take the wheel.
JESUS: Ah look at you.
KEVIN: Take the wheel!
JESUS: Look at you. Look at you! You’re fucking pathetic!
KEVIN: Why? Why? What are you talking about?
JESUS: Why do you think I called you to a woman who would break your heart and to attend a seminary that you hate?
JESUS: Hitting bottom isn’t a weekend retreat! It’s not a god damn seminar! Stop trying to control everything and just let go.
- JESUS looks at KEVIN, his hands in the air.
- KEVIN looks at JESUS with dead eyes.
[The dramatic failing of what I had known as faith was exactly what I needed to finally let go of it. While painful, I think this was necessary. Just as the character in Fight Club is launched along the story after everything he owned and had made his life was destroyed, so I was launched along the journey I needed to take after everything I had cared about blew up in my face.]
JESUS: Let go!
KEVIN: Alright… fine…
- KEVIN takes his hands off the wheel, holds them in the air.
- JESUS studies KEVIN’s face, impressed. JESUS makes no move to take the wheel.
[For me “letting go” meant finally exploring my life-long fear that God hated me. I did this by taking two classes at seminary that would touch on how God could be good while evil exists in the world and another class that would declare and teach that God healed people in this world. This ran against the grain of what I had experienced with my arthritis.
I honestly did not know what conclusions I would come to and if I would end up a Christian or even a spiritual person after all was said and done.]
- THROUGH THE WINDSHIELD: a STALLED CAR ahead on the side of the road, surrounded by flares.
- KEVIN and JESUS’s eyes stay locked as the car drifts onto the shoulder… heading for the stalled car. Their faces are illuminated by the light of the flares.
- JESUS smiles.
[While I had been in counseling and Twelve Step recovery programs I now started doing inner healing prayer. This is a type of prayer that focuses on asking God to heal emotional and spiritual wounds in a person. While it was incredibly painful to think, talk about, and re-experience many traumatic moments in my life, God showed up in miraculous ways. I had visions of Jesus in many of these painful moments and there was a lot of healing.]
- They SMASH into the stalled car — AIRBAGS INFLATE!
- The back of their car whips around and carries it into a ass-over-tea-kettle ROLL down a hill…
[But after this incredible time of healing I went through a very dark time and was seriously contemplating suicide. My worldview was in incredible flux at a very difficult emotional time and I did not have my old crutches, like pornography or my legalistic faith, to use and feel in control.]
KEVIN (V.O.): I’d never really let go, experienced my pain and explored my fears. This must’ve been what all those other people felt like before I wrote them off as heretics or irreligious people.
- The car finally hits the bottom, lying on its roof.
- EXT. OVERTURNED CAR
- JESUS crawls from the passenger side. He walks around opens the driver’s side door and drags KEVIN out into the mud.
- Christian #1 and Christian #2 climb out the broken rear window.
- JESUS sits beside the stunned, wounded KEVIN.
JESUS: God damn.
- JESUS laughs.
JESUS: We just had a near-life experience.
[Over the next several weeks the dust settled and it was through this very dark and turbulent time that I was brought to a new life.
I was able to forgive my parents, my Ex, and am reunited with my parents after being estranged from them.
More importantly, I did leave Christianity. My understanding of “Christianity,” faith, how to use the Bible and how to relate to God were toxic and not how God planned anyone to relate to Him, understand the Bible or treat others.
After a lot of my dysfunction and pain was healed I became able to experience the love God has for me (and I am thoroughly convinced, for everyone) in a deep and meaningful way. I think now maybe I am exploring a real faith for the first time, one that is about God and me, not me and a math equation and a set of rules.]
Third, I would like to take this opportunity to apologize. My legalism, hypocrisy, and judgmental attitude towards others, especially non-Christians or irreligious people, I’m sure has hurt or offended many. I am deeply sorry for that. Furthermore, I know when I was doing much of this I claimed to be a representative of Jesus and God, making it worse.
It is one thing to have someone tell you you are bad, and it is another to have someone tell you that there is a God and He says your bad.
I was too close to my own bullshit to see it. If anyone has been hurt by me in this arena, or in any other way really, please message me in private or comment on this post if you feel comfortable doing so. I honestly desire to make things right.
I would hope in future posts I will be more accessible to all of my readers and if you read something you do not understand or can’t even engage with, please let me know and help me to improve my writing. I would also hope in my future writings people will also see the change in my faith and my entire life that has been brought about by God’s work in my life.
you know what’s funny……in our healing class last quarter, I judged you to be the most knowledgeable and someone who has experienced the most of this type of ministry, throughout the entire quarter.
And then you shared your whole testimony at our regathering at Travis’ house and I was blown away….just goes to show, we really can’t judge a book by its cover….or judge, period.
But anyways, thanks for being so open and exposing the darkness.
Yeah I was in the midst of receiving it and struggling through everything still as the class was moving on. Jesus’ power to heal is truly amazing.
And your welcome. I hope my honesty and openness inspires more honesty and openness. I don’t want to assume anything about your experience but coming from an Asian culture it was very difficult me for to start talking about this stuff. But I think that’s true for anyone from any culture really. We don’t like talking about our faults and failures.