Denominational Analysis Paralysis

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Credit: Tim Donnelly

I wasn’t born into Christianity. At least, I wasn’t born into any particular form of Christianity.

My family didn’t go to church when I was little. When I was 10, sometimes we’d pop into the local Methodist church and sit through their service. That was really it as far as exposure to any church went. My parents didn’t discover Mennonites until I was 11.

For most of my childhood, I wasn’t taught how to “do Christianity” in any particular way. My mother taught me how to pray. We had a Children’s Bible that I wouldn’t read because I’d come across the story of Samuel’s ghost and it freaked me out (1 Samuel 28… if you dare). Bible ghosts are scary, y’all!

Religion didn’t have much of an influence on me until I was almost a teenager. So, I totally don’t count as one of those poor people who are only Christians because they were indoctrinated as children and just don’t know any better. (Which probably makes me even more of a pain in the ass for some of my anti-theist friends because I really should know better.)

I did hang out with Mennonites (and some pseudo-Mennonites) while I was in middle school and high school. But, then I shrugged off Christianity for over a decade. Coming back has created a bit of a problem for me.

Now I have to figure out where to hang my hat (my hat is embroidered with an inappropriate pun, so I can’t just hang it anywhere.)

Honestly, I’m a little jealous of people who were born into a denomination and still feel comfortable there. That’s not an option for me. I wasn’t born into anything. I wound up with the Mennonites, but that’s not where I started. So, I’m not going to just automatically go back to that.

I’ve been out here in the wilderness for the past few years. The good thing about leaving my religion for so long is that I don’t take anything for granted anymore. There’s nothing that’s obvious to me anymore. I know I used to hold certain beliefs because I was influenced by what the people around me told me. (That’s kind of how childhood works.)

I built up a shoddy house with bad theology back then and it didn’t long to shake that foundation apart (and I torched the ruins on my way out.)

So, when I started over I was really starting over. From scratch.

And that’s a problem.

Last time I built my house on sand, but where the hell is that rock I’m supposed to be building on?! Everyone claims they’re built on the rock, but everyone can’t be right.

I know what it’s like to feel everything I believed in, everything I was, everything that made me Kristy just blow away in the wind. I worry about it a lot. What if I get it wrong again? I mean, I sure thought I knew last time and that didn’t work out.

But, you know what? So what if I get it wrong again? Do I follow perfect theological arguments or do I follow Jesus?

Good theology can help us better understand and follow Jesus, but the end goal is believing in and following Jesus. That’s the whole point.

A lot of wise men and women have walked this road in front of me. A lot of them were more knowledgeable than I will ever be. And time after time they come up with some wonderful contribution that dazzles us with truth… and then they totally go off the rails on some other point. (I’m looking at you Menno Simons. Celestial flesh? Seriously?)

Why would I think I could get it all right when people who are way more brilliant than I am only get things partially right?

I get so hung up on being correct that I’m afraid to move until I know I’m moving in the right direction. So, I get stuck in analysis paralysis and just don’t move forward at all.

At first, I thought I’d find a denomination that agreed with my beliefs.

Then, I realized that was stupid. I couldn’t start with what I believed because I didn’t know what I believed about most things… or if I was even right about the things I did believe.

So, I started looking for what was true, whether I liked it or not. (I don’t actually like the pacifism thing.)

But, that hasn’t gotten me anywhere, either. Because everyone says what they believe is true and most of them can back it up with some pretty convincing arguments.

Maybe I need to stop worrying about perfection and just move. If I get something wrong, I get it wrong. Oh, I’m sure I’ll get some things wrong.

Maybe it’s more important that I find a tradition that’s OK with me not knowing or being certain.

Maybe it’s more important right now that I find some kind of community instead of looking for some fantasy of a perfect group, with perfect theology, and perfect people.

Maybe there aren’t a lot of neat answers to these questions, anyway. Maybe theology is always going to be messy and uncertain because we’re limited humans trying to wrestle with the unlimited divine. Maybe I won’t ever be confident that what I believe to be true is actually true.

I’m starting to think that doesn’t matter. I’m starting to think exploring the question might be more important than finding an absolute answer. A little (or a lot of) mystery might be OK.

Bad theology can be dangerous. So, I do think it’s important to try to get to the right answers. Though, no one person is going to get all the right answers. If we work together (and keep our arrogance and biases in check) maybe we can get close enough. Maybe what I’m really looking for is a group who’s not afraid of wrestling with me.

3 Comments

  1. Crystal Blue Hendrix July 28, 2015 at 9:21 am

    I all out bawled at this part: “I know what it’s like to feel everything I believed in, everything I was, everything that made me Kristy just blow away in the wind. I worry about it a lot. What if I get it wrong again? I mean, I sure thought I knew last time and that didn’t work out.”
    You couldn’t have said it any better.
    And then there was this: “Why would I think I could get it all right when people who are way more brilliant than I am only get things partially right?

    I get so hung up on being correct that I’m afraid to move until I know I’m moving in the right direction. So, I get stuck in analysis paralysis and just don’t move forward at all.”
    At this point in my life, godly to me seems to mean something that touches my inner depths the way it seems no one and nothing else ever has or can. An understanding and a being understood in a way that makes you fully collapse in relief.
    That’s what this is to me. Godly.
    Thank you Kristy!

    Reply

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