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Father Knows Best: Where do I Find my Truth on Theology?

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By Martin Elfert

Hey Rev!

I’m at a crossroads with the subject of God. I live in the Mecca of Mormonism, and I strongly disagree with the basis of their religion (Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith) but their undoubted faith makes me wonder if I’m truly missing something. I was raised Catholic, and was devout until I was married 2.5 years ago. My husband is spiritual, but not religious. He would go to church with me if I asked, but frankly, I don’t even want to go anymore. Where do I look to find my truth on theology? I’ve read just about every forum online, and my head is filled with confusion. God is what I’ve known and loved growing up, but right now if feels like a lot of nonsense. 

– AS

House-ad_SPO_FKB_new_0429139Dear AS:

What if the crossroads is an OK place to hang out for a while?

When we are young and first finding our way in the world, we instinctively attach ourselves to categories and build up walls around them. We proudly declare that we are members of a given family or a given community or a given country, that we are supporters of a given sports team, that we are the sort of people who love music or horses or math or chess. We proudly declare that our categories are the best.

That instinct towards self-categorization is natural and probably even necessary: in order to do the hard work of growing up — in order to figure our who we are and whose we are — we need to know that we belong to something that is good and joyful, something that has access to truth and to love. We need to know that we have a safe place to call home.

The problem arises when we get a few years into adulthood and we realize that we’re not sure how to loosen our grip on our childhood categories. That’s when we notice that the walls that protected us so well when we were growing up have become the walls that imprison us.

Now, some of us try to escape our personal walls by hopping out of them and hopping into a new set of walls — its remarkably easy for aggressive and angry Christians to become aggressive and angry atheists (or vice versa). But that strategy just ends up swapping one problem for another almost identical problem: inside of our new walls we are still reflexively suspicious everyone who isn’t like us; we still understand our neighbors as problems to be solved rather than people to be known; we are still stuck in a binary place, a place of either/or.

And that, AS, is what makes spending time at the crossroads important. Because the crossroads is, by definition, outside of our walls, outside of our categories. It is a place in which we can set down the heavy weight of either/or, the heavy weight of mandatory certainty. At the crossroads, Roman Catholicism or Mormonism or religion in general doesn’t need to present you with a binary choice whereby you are either totally devout or else you understand faith as so much nonsense. At the crossroads, you are at liberty to speak those frightening and liberating words:

I’m not sure.

Naming your unsureness at the crossroads might just free you up to do two things. First, it might allow you to approach faith and other big questions with a generous curiosity. You may well still conclude that you aren’t called into the Mormon tradition. But I suspect that, even as you say, “this isn’t for me,” you will surprise yourself with your willingness to find insight and inspiration in Mormonism — and, for that matter, in other flavors of Christianity, in Islam, in Buddhism, in Judaism, in skepticism, and so on. Each of these ways of responding to reality has wisdom to offer about God, about yourself, and about the human condition.

Second, being unsure at the crossroads invites you to get out of your head for a while. The crossroads is the same place that scripture calls the wilderness. And the holy lostness of the wilderness is more about our lived experience than it is about intellectual concepts, it is more about paradox than it is about certainty, it is more about the search than it is about figuring out the map. In your glorious and difficult unsureness, AS, you may find that the arguments of the online forums stop seeming all that important to you and that you ready to seek out a worshipping community that doesn’t demand that you intellectually assent to anything before you begin, a community that is okay with someone like you just showing up and being part of their practice.

Eventually, you will leave the crossroads. Eventually, you will return to categories — human beings can’t really function in the long run without them. But, if your experience is anything like mine, you will find on your return that the walls of your categories are far lower than before and far more easily crossed. You will find that you no longer need other people to be wrong in order for you to be right, that you are able to hold things just a little more lightly. You will find that you have brought some of the crossroads home with you.

Martin Elfert
Martin Elfert
The Rev. Martin Elfert is an immigrant to the Christian faith. After the birth of his first child, he began to wonder about the ways in which God was at work in his life and in the world. In response to this wondering, he joined Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he and his new son were baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005 and where the community encouraged him to seek ordination. Martin served on the staff of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane, Wash. from 2011-2015. He is now the rector of Grace Memorial Episcopal Church in Portland, Oreg.

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Tiffany McCallen
Tiffany McCallen
9 years ago

Excellent column, Rev! I think I needed to hear that today as a lapsed Methodist, always exploring, sorta spiritual, still seeking gal.

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