September 18, 2018

Escaping the Wilderness: Part Two – Looking back

I am about to exit what we call the Post-Evangelical Wilderness.

I think.

Over the next few Fridays I will be recounting parts of my journey both from the distant past, as well as from the recent past. I will also be discussing where I am heading and why. As a way of further introduction here is my post from three and a half years ago, when I officially entered the wilderness once again.

– – – – –

Alex Colville – Horse and Train

I left a good church last month.

It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.

Why do I call it good? It was full of people whose hearts were in the right place. The leadership was comprised of quality individuals. It was a church that wasn’t satisfied with the status quo and was seeking to evangelize and disciple. The people there were welcoming, caring, and loving. The music was consistently well done. I was part of an awesome small group (the thing that made it hardest to leave). I could go on and on about the different things I liked about this church.

When we first came to the church eight years ago it felt like home almost immediately. I recall a conversation early on in our time at the church. “How long have you been at the church”, one lady asked. “About nine weeks”, I replied. “Wow!”, she said. “It seems like you have been here forever.”

I have chosen not to elaborate on the details about why I chose to leave, other than to say that over time the church and I started heading in different directions, both philosophically and theologically. Well-intentioned people don’t always agree. Two sets of people with the same goal might come up with very different approaches to achieving that goal. Christendom is full of examples of that. In the past, on this site, I have shared much of my theological and spiritual journey. I have formed some strong opinions about many things, and many of these opinions have come as a result of me changing my mind about something I once believed. I also know that a good percentage of the views that I now hold will ultimately be proven to be wrong, which make me very hesitant to criticize those with whom I disagree. Who am I to say that my ideas are right and others are wrong? Maybe both sets of ideas are right, or both wrong.

The divergence of opinion reached the point where I said to myself. “I no longer fit. I don’t belong here anymore.” It caused me no end of anguish when I came to that realization. It took another two years before I could bring myself to write a letter of resignation. I am not a person who wishes to sow discord or dissension, but when I saw the seeds of that creeping in, I knew it was time to leave. I tried to do it as gracefully as possible, but I know that some people were hurt by my actions, and I am truly sorry for that.

I am not convinced that I will find a church that is a better fit and I am not convinced I will find a better church…

– – – – –

Addendum: I still miss my old church. I miss the people. I miss the worship. I miss our small group.

I visit from time to time. I have also attended a few funerals for those who have passed on. Each time, the greetings I receive communicates quite loudly that we would be welcomed back. But I know deep in my heart that I still wouldn’t fit and that still makes me sad.

I am however at the point where I am able to start moving on, and I will be writing more about that in the posts to come.

As usual your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Comments

  1. Change a few of the numbers and I could have written it. Although I did find a church that is a better fit, and – in many ways – a better church.

  2. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    > thoughts and comments

    I don’t have anything to say other than: “Been there, done that; it sucks”.

  3. I look forward to reading what you share with us, Mike Bell. Friday is my new favorite day of the week.

    I’m also in the wilderness, though I’m not sure post-evangelical is a word I would use. I walked away from that many years ago. The most recent church I left was over grief support issues. Perhaps I am nearly ready for polite company again…

    I’ll be retiring and moving back to the mountain West next spring. Perhaps as part of starting over in a new place, I can find a Christian community again.

    • Michael Bell says:

      Friday is my new favorite day of the week.

      Thanks Richard! Chaplain Mike, has given me an incredible amount of freedom to write what is on my heart.

      God’s blessing on you as you seek a renewed start.

  4. Loving people but not fitting in with them is such a difficult feeling. :/

  5. Samuel Conner says:

    It is painful and I think even a bit corrosive to live behind a mask of doctrinal conformity; it has (for me) the “feel” of dishonesty. At the same time one does not want to sow discord (Jesus came to “bring a sword”, but I am insufficiently confident of my thinking to aspire to be an instrument of that).

    It’s a fundamentally asymmetric relationship — one respects the consciences of one’s more dogmatic brothers and sisters but the strength of their (self-)confidence often does not permit them to return that kindness.

    I’m afraid that the “forbear one another” emphasis in Paul often doesn’t extend very far in actual practice.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      “””one respects the consciences of one’s more dogmatic brothers and sisters but the strength of their (self-)confidence often does not permit them to return that kindness. “””

      Quote of the day; well put.

      And this is equally true outside of church.

      > At the same time one does not want to sow discord

      Yep. Now only when, but how, to speak dissent is a constant question. Where is line between pointlessness argument and quiescent.? I suppose that is easy question for the partisan.

      > forbear one another” emphasis in Paul often doesn’t extend very far in actual practice

      It so easily becomes lopsided.

    • Paragraph one…BINGO!

      Paragraph two…BINGO!

      Paragraph three…BINGO!

      One of the best comments on this topic ever.

    • “It’s a fundamentally asymmetric relationship — one respects the consciences of one’s more dogmatic brothers and sisters but the strength of their (self-)confidence often does not permit them to return that kindness.”

      no, but it gives them an example to follow when they are ready to move forward in their humanity

    • Michael Bell says:

      It is painful and I think even a bit corrosive to live behind a mask of doctrinal conformity;

      I found this SO SO difficult and very anxiety producing.

  6. Burro (Mule) says:
    • “Before the altar of God, I stand in union with human failure throughout the ages, and in union with the infinite compassion of Christ.”

      magnificent quote

    • Michael Bell says:

      … the endless forays towards some new, imagined excellence, were the founding ideology of the various modern ecclesiologies.

      I hope to touch on both of these phrases in subsequent posts.

      As to the first phrase, I think that one of the reasons that I can begin to exit the wilderness, is coming to the realization that there isn’t a “new, imagined excellence” waiting out there for me.

      As to the second phrase, although I am not particularly drawn to Orthodoxy (capital O to represent the church, not the doctrine), my experience is that many of the add-ons that we get in statements of faith really serve to be exclusionary.

    • Samuel Conner says:

      Thanks; that is a helpful perspective. For myself, I’m not quite ready to abandon the Protestant hope that sounder understanding of Scripture (and I’m not privileging Protestant understandings; in some respects I have been migrating away from them), practised more soundly, can improve things. But at the moment I’m kind of “hiding.”

      One of my “questions that must not be spoken” relates to pnuematology. Could it be that the “en hEmin”/”en humin” dwelling of the Holy Spirit is as much a corporate as an individual phenomenon — “among us”/”among you”.

      Perhaps in some sense the Spirit inhabits our relationships; Paul’s “one another” commands might be instruments of the Spirit’s work “among us”. It’s probably not possible to establish that idea exegetically; it does seem to be a plausible interpretation of what I have observed (to be absent) in recent decades.

  7. ‘to thine own self be true’ . . . . . timeless advice that still works

  8. Long time reader of IMonk, first time commenter.

    I came to the same realization 3 and a half years ago, and left the church that had felt so much like home when I joined. Over time my faith journey led me to a place that was not in sync with the other members. I suffered in silence for a long time until I realized that the church was no longer a place of warm fellowship and refuge, but something done by habit.

    As I served in several different positions in our small church, I couldn’t just walk away and ignore them. I wrote a heartfelt letter of resignation explaining that since I no longer supported some of the positions written in our church covenant, I did not believe it was appropriate for me to continue to serve in the church. I told them how much I loved all of them but it was time for me to find another place to worship and serve where I could do that without reservation.

    Sadly, I am still looking for that place. But in the interim I have found solace here on your website.

    • Thanks for your first ever comment, Ruth. Yes, this website is a god-send for many of us.

    • Michael Bell says:

      Thank you for commenting Ruth. It is good to see some new or infrequent commenters posting on this issue.

      Your letter of resignation sounds just like mine!

  9. I wonder if ‘belonging’ isn’t some kind of ‘shelter from the storm’ we all seek; and in order to ‘belong’, we are willing to conform in ways that are not who we really are?

    Can we not be ‘with’ people who are not like-minded in a way that celebrates our shared human connection with them as human persons more than a shared ‘worldview’ (I HATE that word)?

    Is the PERSON not more important to us than what the person believes?

    Are we not all made of the same elements of the Earth? And has not the same Creator breathed life into all of us?

    It is said that ‘love’ is given for the sake of the ‘other’ without thought of recompense or reward. Why is it so hard to love others for their own sake as persons, especially those who seem so repulsive to us? How do we get past the ‘contempt’ we feel for others because SO often, that ‘contempt’ is a projection we lay on them instead of dealing with our own mess???

    Or do we ‘come away’ and withdraw to ourselves out of grief for the sadness of our human kind? Like that phrase from the Yeats poem . . . . ‘for the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand’ ???

    I love the idea of seeking a personal ‘integrity’ . . . . .
    especially in this age when a ‘go along to get along’ small-town survival mode has yielded something in our society where so many have turned to praise and follow the unthinkable for their leader and as a result, hundreds of ‘tender age’ immigrants are crying for their mothers and fathers inside of their cages. . . . .

    • Adam Tauno Williams says:

      > Why is it so hard to love others for their own sake as persons

      Because people are often cruel; particularly people who are certain about things.

    • Michael Bell says:

      I wonder if ‘belonging’ isn’t some kind of ‘shelter from the storm’ we all seek; and in order to ‘belong’, we are willing to conform in ways that are not who we really are?

      Thanks for your comment Christiane. I started to write about belonging in this post, before realizing that I needed to backtrack. I will likely get into this more in the next post. Notice the “once again” in my opening paragraph: “I officially entered the wilderness once again.”

  10. I often think of Huck Finn wanting to “light out for the territories”. But is he escaping or just running away? How often we go in search of freedom and wind up merely substituting one bondage for another. There is movement in space and movement in consciousness. They are not often the same. I once went half away around the world to escape but wound up realizing the thing I couldn’t get away from was myself. How could I have not known this from the first?

    • Interesting testimony. It begs the question, is there ever a right way, a healthy way, to ask someone, “Do you think there might be a reason you’ve never been married?” In other words, do we ever have the right to tell someone, “Maybe it’s you”? If so, how and when do we earn that right?

      Self-discovery pretty much needs to be just that…self. Related to that, I think much of what Jesus tells us through the Bible is a gentle (sometimes not) suggestion: “time to look in the mirror.”

      I’m not sure where I’m going with this comment, other than the WORST people to hear “maybe it’s you” from are people you don’t agree with. Healthy relationship? Sure, tell me it’s me. Unhealthy relationship? Get away from me, Satan!

      • Michael Bell says:

        Someone once told me: “If you have a problem with one other person, it’s likely them. If you have a problem with everyone, it’s likely you!”

    • Michael Bell says:

      I once went half away around the world to escape but wound up realizing the thing I couldn’t get away from was myself

      My father really struggled to feel at home in a church. I recognize that attribute in myself as well. In that sense, I am my Father’s son. They say though that the first step is admitting you have a problem. 😀

  11. Adam Tauno Williams says:

    > do we ever have the right to tell someone,

    Right? Dunno. I do know that unless there is some kind of invitation to do so it is unlikely to do any good.

    > the WORST people to hear “maybe it’s you” from are people you don’t agree with

    Yep

  12. Mike, I enjoy your writing, especially the vulnerability that you offer. With that said, I do hope you take the next step as you share in the future and disclose what exactly the differences were that caused you to leave.

    As you know, our age is one of dislocated relationships. We’re all lonelier than ever. And yet we still retreat to our comfort zones of hot-takes and political/religious opinions when we find ourselves in disagreement with people that we respect and cherish. Sometimes that is brave of us, to obey our convictions and take a stand. But sometimes the martyrdom is self-imposed. And so it really surprises me that you would sum things up as a “divergence of opinion.”

    I’m sure it is more than that, but I’d like to hear it from you.

    Honestly, I’d like to know what caused you to go, and I’d like to know if it was/still is worth it to you.

    • Michael Bell says:

      Sean,

      I deliberately haven’t gone into details so as to not point fingers. Stay tuned though because a future post will talk about practice and theology, from which you should be able to infer somethings.

  13. I love the choice of art to accompany this topic. The horse looks confident, almost brash, as it charges ahead toward its iron counterpart. Will he yield the right of way, and thereby spare his life, or will he continue on his path, certain of his “correctness”, until the inevitable collision?

    I also recognized the work from the cover art of the outstanding Bruce Cockburn album, Night Vision.

    • Michael Bell says:

      The Night Vision cover was intentional.

      From the song “You Don’t Have To Play the Horses – Bruce Cockburn 9th February 1972”

      So we wait beside the desert
      Nothing left to give away
      Naked as the Hanged Man’s secrets
      Nothing left to do but pray

      You don’t have to play the horses
      Life’s a gamble all the same
      It don’t take much to make you lose sight
      Of the object of the game

      Anyone can be a soldier
      It’s a prevalent disease
      Oh God I don’t know where to step now
      Help me find the right road please

      So we wait beside the desert
      Nothing left to give away
      Naked as the Hanged Man’s secrets
      Praying for the break of day

  14. I think that once you’ve been in and trekked through the wilderness, it remains part of you forever, whether you find another church home or not. It shapes you indelibly, and you know that there’s always a chance you may once again journey through it. Exit is always a live option to you, however remote it may seem in any moment.

  15. They found a man on a deserted island recently who had been marooned alone for 20 years like Tom Hanks and Wilson. He survived by making a village while he waited to be rescued. He showed the rescuers around his village had a hospital, a city hall, a courthouse and all the other needed parts of a little village that he had built. While giving the tour they he showed them his church and right down the street was a similar looking building . . They asked him what the deserted building #2 was and he told them it was the church he use to be a member of before he moved to his new church.

    Where ever M. Bell winds up or does not wind up he will be fine and still a + to the world, from what I gather from this site . It is all part of our life journey and in this world we only get one chance , as they say this is not a rehearsal. I am a big believer in personal relationship in matters of faith if the person is a sincere pilgrim .

    Most of the time the church ask me to leave or they leave and do not tell me. Maybe they are testing me.

Speak Your Mind

*