learning to sink

almost eleven years ago i was a twenty-three year old pastor beginning a new opportunity at mcc. at the same time, my life and faith were beginning to unravel in ways that were alarming. what i didn’t know then, and what i’m learning now, is that this dissonance i was experiencing (and still experience in many ways) wasn’t my enemy. it could actually be a trusted friend. 

the deconstruction of the faith i grew up with didn’t happen over night. it actually took years. it also wasn’t something i chose, as if i woke up one morning and said, “i think i’ll go on a soul-shaking journey of deconstructing my faith today.” it was much more natural and subtle. it all began during a span of six months in the early 1990s.

in 1993 i lost both my great-grandmother and my grandfather. i was eleven, and these two happened to be my entire world. this loss raised so many questions about god, prayer, and how the world worked. i didn’t know it then, but that six-month span of loss would shape my theological journey in deep ways.

there were more experiences, of course.

i took old and new testament classes during undergrad that introduced me to scholarship and ideas about the bible that resonated deeply. it was almost as if i had this unspoken intuition–unspoken because i feared it–that was confirmed by what i was learning. 

in the early 2000s i saw my first NOOMA (short films by Rob Bell), which was all about the context of the stories in the bible. or at least that’s what i heard. i had no idea that context was a thing, or that it mattered. for all i knew, jesus lived in eastern kentucky and spoke elizabethan english with a southern twang. this new idea, context, was like a drug. i had to learn more about the bible, where it came from, and the sitz im leben to which it pointed. 

i could go on and on about this journey, but the point is that little by little everything was unraveling and being deconstructed. i carried this deep, foreboding sense that i would lose my faith if i kept pursing this. yet, i couldn’t not pursue it. i had to find out where this rabbit hole led. 

at some point i realized that i had been living with a false dichotomy. my understanding was that there are two choices: blind, unquestioned belief and godless doubt. what my experience has taught me, however, is that there are more choices. doubt and dissonance can actually lead to a robust, meaningful faith.

there’s a story in the new testament about jesus and one of his disciples, peter. jesus’ disciples were on a boat out in a lake that was being battered by wind and waves. early in the morning, the disciples saw jesus walking toward them. on the water. like you do. and peter’s response was to join jesus out on the water. 

which he does, for a least a couple seconds. then, when he saw the wind and waves, peter became afraid and began to sink. of course, jesus catches him and helps him back into the boat. 

most of my life, i’ve heard sermons that were critical of peter: he didn’t have enough faith, he doubted, and he sank. but recently i’ve been thinking differently about this story.

what if sinking is the best thing for us? what if, in honestly pursuing our doubts and the dissonance we feel, we actually create space for faith to grow?

this has been my experience. in losing the faith i grew up with–in sinking–i have found something so much more fulfilling and life-giving. it’s not the same faith i had, but it’s more meaningful. and it’s still growing, changing, and emerging. 

several years ago i tried my hand at surfing for the first time. i was in the pacific ocean (which was super cold) and the waves were really intense that day. i tried for almost an hour to stand up on the board, but i ended up being tossed around like a rag doll. then, finally, i did it. i rode a wave. for two and a half seconds. then i tumbled into the water. 

i happened to go under when a series of big waves came crashing in. every time i tried to surface for air, the waves would come down, pushing me onto the rocky ocean floor. i began to panic. i really thought it might be curtains. then i had this moment of clarity: i just need to stop struggling against the waves. i need to let them be. then, when there’s a break, i’ll surface. 

and that’s exactly what happened. 

perhaps it is in the embracing of our doubts, fears, and the dissonance we feel that we actually create space for a new, meaningful, and life-changing faith to emerge. 

so, may we learn to sink well.

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