Welcome to the Patchwork Blog! I hope you enjoy reading my random thoughts about life, Jesus and the freedom he offers.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Who broke my chains? Did anyone break them?

I think I am becoming a little less anxious about my crisis of faith. I am beginning to accept that it is a journey that I am on and I don't have to hurry to the end just yet! I dont like things to be indetween, I like to know what things are. Part of me still really wants to know if there is a God.

I can see what people mean when they look in the Bible and see a God they don't like. Their reasoning is something I can follow. But my heart and my experience tell me that there is a God. The excperiences I have had tell me there is a God. But that is a very subjective way of working out if there is a God or not. I can't find another answer for why things happened to me. 

One thing happened some time aga now. I was at a meeting at my church. We had a visiting preacher from USA with us.  It came to a time of prayer. I stood up in line to receive prayer. A man from my congregation prayed for me and I fell over in the Spirit.  This is not something that happened to me very often, I usually fought it, and stood rooted to the spot determined that no one was going to make me go  over. The man praying for me didn't even touch me and I went over. As I lay there I started to wimper to myself. I was thinking in my head (witnesses confirm I was not saying anything outloud) 'don't leave me' over and over again. The visiting speaker apparently heard my wimper and immediately stopped what he was doing and came straight over to me. He ordered a 'spirit of abandonment' to leave me. Instantly I found myself screaming.  The scream was so intense that I had pinpricks of blood around my eyes. He then left me with church members praying for me while he finished praying for the person he had been with. Once he had finished he came back to me and talked to me for a while.

If it was not God, what was it? I know I wasn't talking out loud when I kept saying to myself 'please don't leave me', outwardly I was wimpering. Eye witnesses confirm that it was my wimper that got the speaker's attention. I am not someone who automatically falls to the floor and starts screaming. It was out of character. I am the kind of person who is suspicsious of that behaviour.   Was it just co-incidence that the speaker talked about a spirit of abandonment when that is what I was laying there fearing? Why did I scream? It wasn't a conscious thing at all. It felt out of my control.

Things like this make me think there is a God but then I think there must be a rational explanation for it. I think my anxiety about it all is becoming more curiosity. If there is a God I think  he will guide me through my doubts.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

I know some wonderful people

When I first started to go through this crisis of faith, suddenly finding myself not believing in the existence of God, the one person I told was a family member who had been through the same thing before me and is now an atheist.  She was kind, understanding and listened. But I knew she would be (that is why I told her!). Firstly she is naturally kind and thoughtful. Secondly she has become an atheist so knows what it is like. However, I have been fearful of telling Christians. I guess I thought I would be rejected. 

Actually, I have been really encouraged by the reaction of the Christian people I know as I share my crisis of faith with them. They have been kind, encouraging, understanding and loving.  At the same time I am saddened to read on others' blogs, and on Ex-Christian.net that my story is not the same for everyone. Their stories are ones of total rejection by friends and family members, being ostracised by their previous church communities and being treated like social lepars by Christian communities. How can people who profess to know the love of God in Jesus treat others with such harsh judgement? Do they think that their rejection and harsh treatment will 'bring them back to God'? I suspect it is more likely to confirm their atheism than make them rethink it!

I am really grateful to the kind reaction of those Christians I have told. I told the pastor of a church I sometimes go along to last Sunday and there was no rejection.  In fact he said he also had had a crisis of faith, and had come out of it stronger in faith than before. He is obviously hoping I will have the same experience but he was kind and loving to me.

I told another person at the church of that pastor talked about in the last paragraph. She has been love and kindness itself. No judgement. No harsh words. Just love and acceptance. And she doesn't really know me. I have only met them a few times but already am loved and welcomed despite my disbelief in God at the moment.

I told a Christian friend today via email who I have known for about 15 years - we were in the same house group. I actually told her about my blog (not told many Christians about it). She read the blog and then sent me such a gentle, thoughtful and loving email, it brought tears to my eyes!  This lady has always been one of those people who shines with the love of Jesus.

How I wish there were more Christians like these wonderful people. I wanted to mention them here so people don't think all Christians are harsh and judgemental when they come across someone who is leaving the Christian faith or who is having major doubts about it.

There are Christians who are judgemental and reject those who leave the faith. But is it sensible to reject God and Jesus because some narrow minded people are acting so wrongly? Is that not like  throwing the baby out with the bath water?

Monday, 15 November 2010

Putting doubt in a corner*

*The title of this post is taken from Adrian Plass's writings. He wrote a book called 'Bacon Sandwiches and Salvation An A-Z of Christian Life'   (ISBN  9781850787235) . Adrian Plass is one of the most helpful Christian writers I have come accross. He is honest and funny. He talks about the Christian faith with honesty, with a 'warts and all' mentality, that I find very refreshing and helpful. This is a quote from the book named above.  'Doubt: more or less frequent visitor who should be allowed in when he knocks at the door and sat firmly down in a corner. As long as he is neither fed nor entertained he will usually get bored after a while and go away.'

I've realised over the last few days that I am listening mainly to one voice. I'm listening to the 'I don't think there is a God anymore' voice.  But the voice of God (if he exists) has been drowned out. I've spent hours reading through various ex-christian websites and blogs, but very little trying to listen to the voice of God. Maybe I haven't told many Christian friends about my doubts and crisis of faith because I don't want to be convinced of there being a God.  I've done what Adrian Plass says not to in the above quote. I have let doubt in and fed him, watered him  and entertained him for hours on end. If I really want to know what I believe about God I have to listen to all the voices in my head and not drown some out.  Only listening to one voice is like having an orchestra with one instrument drowning out the sound of all the others.  An orchestra sounds better when it is condcuted by someone who allows each instrument to sound at the appropriate time and for the appropriate amount of time.

If a part of me doesn't want to believe in God I think I want to know why. Why is it that one part of me is trying to drown out the voice of God (if he exists) and doesn't seem to want to believe in him, but there is still the other part which is longing  for there to be a God and to be with him again.  What is causing this tug of war inside me? 

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Grieving for God

I realised this afternoon that one of the feelings I have buzzing around my head is a deep feeling of loss and grief that I don't have God anymore. I want to believe in God desperately. For most of the years I had a faith in God  he was a friend and a strength through bad times. I am feeling desperately sad that deep down I no longer believe in the existence of a God. I just feel bereft. I am trying to convince myself that there is a God but deep down I just don't think I believe there is one. There is a big gaping hole where God used to be. What am I going to fill that hole with? How do I cope on my own?

There is a little fear that if I am wrong God will send me to hell for not believing in him anymore. But another part of me thinks that if God is loving then he won't do that. He would understand my confusion. But if I am wrong and there is a God why is he not speaking to me and reassuring me of his existence.  But as I am writing this I am beginning to feel hope again.  If I feel this desperate for God and he does exist surely he will show himself to me? I have this verse from the Bible going through my  mind. I feel like the picture - so dry and bereft of all that feeds me spiritually. It seems too good to be true that there is a God.

 O God, you are my God,
   earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
   my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
   where there is no water.

Psalm 63:1

I feel that I have started to work out some of the voices in my head. At least that is something.

Voices in my head

I hate confusion. I am hearing so many conflicting voices in my head. The swinging back and forth between different views is nausiating! I want just one voice in my head, telling me what is right, and what is wrong. How do I work out which voice is the truth - or is he desire to have one truth also a voice that has been lying to me over the years?

I've found the website http://www.new.exchristian.net/ to be helpful during my confusion over the last year. People on the forum were helpful and understanding of my position. Today I read this article Getting God’s Self-Appointed Messengers Out of Your Head ~ ExChristian.Net . It was really helpful. I feel like I have so many different voices in my head. I don't know which is me and which is someone else's voice. At the end of the article Dr Valerie Tarico says " You may have to listen hard at first because of all the clamor. But if you can learn to identify the other speakers, eventually you will be able to tune in to the voice that is not theirs, but yours. "  That gives me hope. If I give myself time I can work out which voice is which.

I think I am trying to get to Z on my journey before I have left A or B. I have a tendency to not like the journey. I want completion, I like to know I've got there. I want a definite 'This is what you do , this is when you do it, and this is when you have arrived'.  At the moment it feels like a maze that I am wandering around in, rather lost, constantly bumping into dead ends.  Another line in Dr Valerie's article is "Trust what you know about beauty and love, wonder, joy, curiosity, and kindness – because you do know, deeply, about each of these.". I still think I haven't grasped what I wrote about at the end of Sunday's post. Start from where I am, not from where I think I ought to be. I keep pushing myself to be somewhere else. I berate myself for not being sure about things.  I am going to try to do what Dr Valerie says. Start by trusting what I do know. If I can work out where I am  and what I do know, then knowing my next step will be easier.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Newton's Cradle

I can remember being fascinated with Newton's Cradle the first time I saw one. I think I was a teenager. I couldn't drag my eyes away from the steel balls as they swung back and forth.

I am beginning to feel like that Newton's Cradle. My thoughts swinging wildly back and forth from one extreme to the other. One moment I think my faith in God is returning and things will go back to normal. The next moment I am back to thinking 'there is no God'. I don't know what I think any more. I am hoping that the swinging will stop eventually, like a Newton's Cradle stops eventually.  I guess I am impatient. I want it to stop now.The constant movement is making me nauseous.  I want to know what I believe. It feels daft not knowing what I believe about something. I used to be so convinced by the intelligent design argument. I couldn't see how anyone could possibly believe that there was not a Creator behind our universe. It all seemed so obvious to me that he was there, and that he loved me.

Somehow that certainty has gone. Most of the time I can't believe that there is a God. It seems ridiculous to think there is a God. But then I will see a beautiful sunset and that inner voice that I always thought was God, starts to speak to me about a Creator God and so the steel ball of my beliefs swings back the other way again.

I think I have spent so much of my life being told what I think by others, at school, at nursing school, at church that I now can't easily work out what I think about things. I want someone to tell me what I believe. I want them to tell me what is happening to me. But I know that to really find peace I have to do that for myself.  I have to listen carefully, and non-judgementally to the different voices. I need to give myself space to work it all out. I have still been going to church most Sundays but now I wonder if I need space from that, space from voices telling me what a 'good Christian' thinks and believes. I think I need quietness and silence is something I have always run away from. I think I need to start to listen to the silence.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Random question - Who was Riley?

I called this blog 'The Patchwork Blog' as I think my thoughts are somewhat like a patchwork quilt. Random colours that may not match but make up something interesting to look at. Here is today's random thought.

A rather relaxed Sir Limp-a-lot
 I found myself wondering this week about the phrase 'Living the life of Riley'. I have a cat with only 3 legs (Sir Limp-a-lot I sometimes call him - that or Pussycat).  Due to my line of work (managing a block of sheltered housing) he gets a lot of attention from older people. The standard response is 'Ahhh, poor thing' due to his being minus a leg. I tell them not to worry about him - he's living the life of Riley (he is spoilt rotten by half the residents!). It got me thinking who was Riley? Why did he have such a comfortable life?

Apparently the phrase originated in the late 19th or early 20th century. It is Irish or Irish American in origin - that much I had worked out for myself - the name Riley kind of gave it away! A comic song written by Pat Rooney was all about someone named Reilly who dreams of what he will do when he is rich. The phrase apparently comes from that.

How often do things creep slowly into our minds and lives so gradually that we don't really notice them . Yesterday  in my post I said "doubts crept up so slowly that I didn't notice them becoming so entrenched", like a new phrase or word that creeps into common useage. How often do we allow things to sneak into our lives? Unhelpful attitudes, thoughts and actions becoming gradually a part of our consciousness until we suddenly realise how much we have changed.

I can't change where I am in my faith overnight. What I can do is to be honest with myself about where I am, and start from there. Starting from where I really am, and not where I think I ought to be after 28 years of being a Christian and 7 years of ministry will be the best I think. Even though I have left working for the church, I am still going to church most Sundays. I still find myself trying to believe what I think I ought to believe. Maybe I am so used to being told what I believe by someone else that I am struggling to work it out for myself.

A few weeks ago our vicar said something like this in his sermon "Once you know you are lost you are on your way to being found. If you don't know you are lost  you are really lost".  I found that very helpful. At least I know I am confused and spiritually lost. It gives me a starting place!

Saturday, 6 November 2010

The First Steps

If anyone had told me when I first left ministry training college that I would leave after 7 years, not even sure if I believed in God any more, I would have laughed at them. But that is where I find myself.

The doubts crept up so slowly that I didn't notice them becoming so entrenched. Over the last couple of years I gradually realised my faith in God was eroding away. I kept thinking it was just a phase, that I would 'snap out of it' relatively quickly. I was wrong.

I had occasions during my time in ministry when I dreamed of leaving and doing something else. I wanted to go back to the relative freedom of not working for the church. But somehow I never did it.

There was a moment when I realised that I absolutely had to get out, and do it as soon as I could. I was asked to preach at the main Christmas carol service of my church. Preparing the sermon, when I knew my faith was virtually non-existant, was hard enough but standing up in church and preaching that sermon was the most difficult thing I have ever had to do. Outwardly I was preaching most most powerful, evangelistic sermon I have ever preached but inwardly I was crying out 'But there is no God'. I felt like I was in a maelstrom of turmoil, being pulled and thrown all over the place. As I stepped down from that sermon I knew I had to get out of church ministry or loose my sanity.

Over the next few months I read books about career change and thought very hard about it. One of the problems with leaving ministry is that my home depended on my job. I was not just leaving a job, but leaving a home. To add to that, I was loosing my faith, which is a big enough stress without it involving having to move house and have a major career change into the bargain.  

I worked out that something I would be good at, that would use many of my skills, was to be a sheltered housing warden. I started researching companies in this line of work and applied for jobs. After about 5-6 months I was offered the job I now have (I think changing my job title from Evangelist to Community Worker on the application form for my present job helped a lot!!). I have accomodation provided and I love what I do. I relish being able to stay in bed on a Sunday morning if I wish, although I do still go to church most Sundays. I have found a church with lovely friendly people who do not push me spiritually. I can relax and just take things in as a customer, so to speak. I even have 4 days off over Christmas! I've not had that for years! Brilliant! Now I am here I have space to work out what I believe about God and how I want that to affect my life.