Saturday, June 27, 2015

he is Silent

    “Coming out” is a phrase often reserved in our day for homosexuals who’ve felt unable to express their sexuality much of their lives. It seems, however, that it also has a place in the religiously skeptic community as well. I didn’t realize the full extent of this until recently, but the manner in which we pursue religion in this country, specifically the Southeast US, can stifle  conversations concerning objections to Christianity or uncertainties present in a person’s personal spirituality. Much of this surrounds how one’s faith community approaches belief and how open they are to discussing dissent within their community.
     I must admit that I’ve not often felt this way. I’ve been lucky enough to have a supportive faith community throughout my personal faith journey. My uncertainties in my faith began, so far as I recall, when I was going through confirmation classes in High School. I was absolutely not vocal concerning my thoughts of the inconsistencies that seemed present in my Catholic faith, but it wasn’t due to any more intimidation than a typical high school student trying to fit in will place upon oneself. I had a vague discussion with a priest that was helpful, but unfortunately didn’t go deep enough to really help very much. Later in college, once I was able to separate my faith from the distraction of working furiously to get into my desired professional program, I was able again to flesh out some of my worries with the weaker areas of Christianity. This time I was able to explore a bit more and hone in on the specifics that seemed difficult. I gave myself time to explore and didn’t give into peer pressure quite so much. BUT I never fully withdrew from the chuch. I still attended weekly. I basically stuck to a similar moral code, some of which doesn’t really make sense apart from a Christian background. I came back to my faith towards the end of my senior year. I did so based on an experience that I had, but nothing really outside of that. Looking back I have to wonder how much I forced an experience to occur based on a compulsion to fit in, even if I didn’t realize it at the time.
    Whatever my motivation, or lack thereof, I can happily say that I didn’t experience any type of over-the-top intimidation such as the hell house phenomenon of some churches. But really it doesn’t stop there, I’ve been at a youth retreat where a preacher basically “scares the hell” out of young persons to “offer conversion”. I have to wonder how much of an offer it really is with all the authority play and peer pressure mixed into the situation. This is all beside the point. What I’m trying to express is that I am, retrospectively, quite happy that I didn’t have to experience any of that leading up to this point. What I have experienced, from pastors and ministers close to me, is a deep sense of empathy and openness with me when discussing matters of skepticism. Not all have had similar thoughts or insecurities, but many have. This has been comforting, and I hope it’s the experience of most Christians.
    Since my conversion, or more serious confirmation of my faith, in college I’ve gotten married, enrolled in seminary classes, withdrawn from seminary classes, been quite active in my church, held lay leadership positions in my church, led sunday school classes, led youth group classes and assisted in retreats, gone through Cursillo (which was amazing), been a part of a cancelled Kairos, been involved in various other ministries, read, watched, and listened to way too many apologetics related materials, and generally tried to dedicate my life (with consistent failings) to my faith in every way possible- some a bit too legalistically for certain. All of this has brought me to where I am today- back at the beginning, but perhaps a bit more distant from the faith that I pursued. I’ve met amazing persons who’ve dedicated themselves to valliant missions which are desperately needed, I’ve experienced beautiful art and ceremony, and I’ve seen true demonstrations of open community. All of this has changed my life in so many positive ways. However, I can’t say it’s made my faith any more assured. I feel no deeper spiritually than when I was a junior in high school wondering what all this fuss was about, if you’ll excuse the use of such a light phrase for such a deep conundrum.

So this brings me to introduce the place where I am presently. I am not a Christian. I am not an atheist. I am somewhere in-between and really I find it rather uncomfortable. I’m rather tired of searching only to return to the exact same place. So, for the present time, I’ve stopped pursuing the larger questions that most belief systems try to answer (metaphysics, etc).

    I wrote an email to some of my close friends and family a few months back explaining the specifics of my struggle and where I was. It was a good thing to get off my chest, and I received nothing but support and encouragement from my community. It was refreshing. No, that’s not the right word really. It was assuring. Assuring to know that I am surrounded by the right persons who care deeply about me and where I’m going in my personal journey. Everyone from my priest in NYC to my father-in-law were encouraging with their comments and thoughts. However, conflict is still present. I am separated in a deep way from much of the community close to me. I don’t share the same ultimate view of reality that they do, and this is difficult. But more difficult is the fact that I feel quite separated from my immediate family a bit.

It may, perhaps, be a bit easier if my children were not 4 and 6.
It may perhaps be a bit easier if we were not planning a third child soon.
It may perhaps be a bit easier if my wife were less personally invested, concerned, and anxious about my decisions in this area.

It may perhaps be easier without these complications, but it seems that conflict often sows the seeds of growth within us. I can only hope that this will be the case here as well.

It’s odd for me to write on this blog. Primarily because I’m rather lazy. But also because I don’t write near as well as my wife, nor would I write about subjects that fit into this space very well. However, it seems only appropriate for me to introduce this great conflict that has arisen in our lives. Many of you care about us on some level and it only seems fair to present this part of our story here. I do hope that going forward this can be a place for Sarah Denley to sift through some of her thoughts and feelings concerning our family’s spirituality here. This blog is a public place for certain, but it has also become a place for SD to work out issues by reflecting upon them through writing. So I expect that in the future some of the issues, such as how we approach this with our kids, will surface here from time to time. I hope that this can be a place of both support and reflection as we go forward on our journey.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As someone who has spent a long time on the fringes of Christianity, I appreciate your honesty. And I think it's ok to disbelieve, to doubt, and especially question. I myself am trying to figure out just what I believe is true and right, some of which doesn't fit into the Christian belief. My pastor once scolded our church for saying we as a congregation were on the fringes (we affirm everyone, including lgbt individuals, allow everyone to serve, regardless; those types of differences that are not really welcomed in the South). He said that we are the heart of Christianity - that we keep it moving and ask the hard questions and to never be ashamed for disagreeing or disbelieving. Not sure if this helps, but I understand where you are and am thankful you shared.