In the ongoing interest of honesty.

I'm officially feeling fully at home in Seattle, this beautiful, international melting-pot of a city; and Capitol Hill, my home, where the queers and the artists live. Not disconnected from this I've had a few blog posts itching to get out of my head, this one finding space in my schedule because of a canceled meeting. Sometimes I post for other people's edification - this post really is self-indulgent. I think I've been in need of a cathartic public declaration or two.

Growing up, my evangelical community really was good to me. My parents and family were great, I loved my friends, I was treated really well by mentors, I had profound religious experiences facilitated by my church, and I was happy throughout most of my Christian college experience. Because of that, my transition out of that culture and community has been slow and painful at the deepest levels - a personal disconnect from people who didn't do anything to deserve it, other than holding a worldview that I can't any more. Somehow, though, it's time for me to move on from this transitional part of my life. I've got to stop wrestling so much with what it means to be post-evangelical and to devote more energy to wrestling with what I am now - which is a theologically and liturgically progressive Episcopalian, and in principle a 'capitol A' Agnostic.

For three years I've worked in a parish that probably leans conservative theologically as far as Episcopal churches go, and that's been somewhat difficult. That community is pretty accepting though, and this blog is the place where I've really felt the post-evangelical struggle. I'm conscious that what I write is public, and is read by friends and family from college and back home. As a result, to some degree I've held back, or spoken tentatively on some of my core theological shifts. My pulling back from evangelicalism has been deeply painful, and from the early time when I realized it was happening (starting senior year of college) it's been my instinct to protect others from that - to not go too far out of my way to convince others about my conclusion that some of their most deeply held beliefs are probably wrong - not unbelievable, just probably wrong. I'm realizing though that most of that instinct is really about self-preservation, and is condescending. People can handle my opinions, which are really not so brilliant as to be devastating.

Maybe you've figured this out indirectly, but the point that I've talked around is that, for several years, the last supernatural vestiges of my traditional beliefs have been gone. Stated bluntly, I don't believe in a God who inspired any scripture in a direct way, I don't subscribe to a literal resurrection of Christ (and probably not of me), and I don't believe that the old miracle stories happened as recorded. For some people this is old hat - mainstream in the liberal churches, I think. For some people it isn't the point, and "God" in quotation marks and Bible as allegory are just fine. For me, coming from where I have, I need to state it in a clear and public way if I'm truly going to be an honest priest someday. It's quite a hard thing for me to say, actually, especially (?) in writing, because it does feel like a concrete step away from people I care deeply about - whether or not it actually is.

Because you can't seperate religion from worldview, losing the traditional shape of my faith has also led to a crisis in my understanding of what religion is about. (I think most people who end up where I have leave behind organized religion altogether - at least in Seattle, where there's little social value in remaining a practitioner.) Without a gospel of salvation from sin and everlasting salvation, it's been awhile since I had a clear understanding of what religion might be for. I owe a lot in that regard to my neighbor Ellen Dissanayake, whose 'What is Art For?' has also helped me to put a framework on my sense of the ongoing value of religion, although that wasn't her intention in writing.

So what is religion for, in my view, now? 1) It's still about 'evangelizing the lost' - or, I suppose, helping people along the way in their quest for deep truth. 2) Rituals that reinforce values, and make them stick for us, and for our children. 3) A real, deep connection to a community. 4) A regular, organized and facilitated experience of the numinous, as Tony Jones said this morning on Facebook. 5) A communal pursuit of Justice in the sacrificial way of Jesus Christ.

I know you can do all of this without participating (or giving money to) traditional forms of organized religion, which is an issue for an aspiring vocational priest.

And, I must say, it feels good to get that out.

Comments

Michelle said…
"My pulling back from evangelicalism has been deeply painful, and from the early time when I realized it was happening (starting senior year of college) it's been my instinct to protect others from that - to not go too far out of my way to convince others about my conclusion that some of their most deeply held beliefs are probably wrong - not unbelievable, just probably wrong. "

That's where I have been for going on 2 years now...It's frustrating feeling that rift, especially when the ones you love don't know (or, so it seems, can't know) it's there. It's also scary to have beliefs so different from those of my closest family and friends - especially if some of those are the most judging and critical Christians you know. Separation of some painful kind seems sadly inevitable...
Paul said…
I like this very much, Tim. It helps illuminate your journey so far--and helps me understand some of the pain that evangelicals can go through as they change.

In your list of things you no longer believe was included one that I found surprising: "a literal resurrection of Christ." I think the key to my understanding what it is you no longer believe is the word "literal," so I'm curious what a "literal" resurrection would be.

I've been finding the phrase, "Eeeeessss GREAT mystery!" very handy as a way to say that I don't need to understand it all--and that faith is not a matter of intellectual assent to some abstract proposition, but rather trust in God and fidelity to God, however imperfectly we embody those.

When I read the resurrection narratives, I'm struck by how downright WEIRD they are. The disciples, who have hung out with Jesus for YEARS, don't recognize him. The resurrected Christ pops up in locked rooms, and disappears as quickly. Yet the resurrected Christ eats.

What happened? I don't know. But SOMETHING happened that affected the disciples and others so profoundly that they proclaimed that Jesus was resurrected. When I say the Creed (and I do so nowadays without crossing my fingers at ANY point :)), I affirm that, even though I have no idea what that great mystery means and little idea of what it implies.

So I'm curious what a "literal resurrection" is for you....
Paul said…
Sorry to double-dip here, but I'm struck by how much talking about pulling back from evangelicalism is like coming out of the closet for LGBT people.
Tim Mathis said…
Hi Michelle,

It's a painful process, although often surprising to see who comes out of the woodworks as empathizing. I've found I've reconnected w/folks in unexpected ways. Granted, each 'defriend' on Facebook feels like a little stab in the heart. For Angel and I, our several 'big moves' have been facilitated by some kind of need to change or reinvent ourselves, which makes the process a little easier, I suppose.

Tim
Tim Mathis said…
And Paul, re: 'literal resurrection' - I'm talking about a physical, bodily resurrection. Real flesh and blood and coming back from hell and the dead and doubters' fingers in holes in the hands. I suppose what I can't bring myself to affirm is the certainty, or even probability, about these things. One wonders when the bodily resurrection stories entered the early tradition, whether they were a convenient (and culturally appropriate) answer to a cult of believers in crisis after the death of their leader, or if they refer to actual events (however such events might be explained). (I think Bart Ehrmann makes the first argument?) Ultimately I'm not sure which possibility is more likely, and that, I guess, troubles me. All theology is also politics, and one wonders how much of the canon was shaped by the motives (maybe a less loaded term is spiritual needs) of the recorders. Ultimately I think these stories shape our traditions about ultimate reality in important ways, but do they tell us anything significant about history? I suppose that is my question and struggle. Do they need to?
Tim Mathis said…
The conclusion I've come to is, no. Not really.
Paul said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul said…
Thanks, Tim. My point in bringing up the variety of resurrection narratives in the Gospels is to say that even in the Gospels, you don't have clear support for a resurrection of Jesus's actual body (actual bodies don't just pop up and disappear, and the disciples should recognize him no miracle required) NOR is there clear support for some sort of spirit/ghost appearance (ghosts don't eat and offer their wounds for Thomas to inspect).

Whatever it was, it was weird.

I've argued that all of the essential theology of the early Church is contained in the Easter Acclamation and Response: "Christ is risen!" "The Lord is risen indeed!" This risen one is Christ, who conquers even death--and he is the Lord.

It loses its power if we strip it of its mystery by making belief in a resurrection of Jesus's very body mandatory, as the Fundamentals attempt to do.

Thankfully, the weirdness of the stories in the Gospels don't allow us to do that--at least not if we're honest.
Jan said…
As your mom, I suppose I'm one of those people you've been avoiding "coming out" to. I've read over your blog a couple times, and should probably read it a few more times to understand everything you've written here. What I've read are a lot of things you no longer believe...what I'm wondering...What DO you believe now? I'll comment again later, when I have a bit more time to ponder.
ROBERTA said…
Peace be with you Tim for "putting it all out there" - as hard as it has obviously been for you to try to protect those you love, and as difficult as this will be for your friends and in particular your loving family. A saying attributed to Buddha says it well: "3 things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth"....

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