I won't lie. The past four years have been amazing but have also had some moments I would like to forget. Overall much growth has occured but some of it has been very painful and the kind of growth you know, deep down, is necessary, but you'd pretty much do anything not to go through it.
We recently made some changes, however, and have moved closer to work and to a community we know well. In fact, you could say we've come home. It's an odd feeling: on one hand everything feels new. We've gone from a stand alone home to an apartment. I've moved from part-time to full-time work and our kids are certainly not kids anymore. On the other hand, everything feels like it did: the enviornment has hardly changed, the shops look the same for the most part and overall, life here doesn't seem to have changed much at all. It's both comforting and a little surreal.
The biggest difference is that who I am now, what I believe and how I am working through my life and beliefs, has altered somewhat and running into people we've known for a decade brings up the predictable question of what we're doing and where we're attending church.
I decided on my response before we moved. I am looking for God before a church. The responses are varied. Some are clearly taken aback; others are intrigued but the discomfort of revisiting some things that represented who I was in the past was inevitable.
To be clear, one thing has not changed. I still believe that the God of the Jews is God, that Christ is his Son and the Messiah and that I am God's daughter. But how I respond to the modern day understanding and outworking of Christianity has definitely changed.
For the record, I am not against formalised Christianity or going to church. I have spent much of my life in church and grown up in the Christian community and think these things are very important and still make up a part of my faith dynamic. But going to church on Sunday and following particular ideologies and theologies are no longer the focus.
Being a follower of Christ - this is how I prefer to articulate my faith now.
I feel that the modern expression of Christianity does not always reflect the Christ of the Bible and it grieves me to see people acting in the name of God and doing horrendous things to others - you just have to watch the news lately to see that no denomination is innocent of atrocities of some kind - and I am uncomfortable with aligning myself with any particular denomination at this stage.
I also feel that the widespread notion that one community's theology, values and mission are more acurate representations of the Gospel than others - even to the point of a given church being more spiritually connected to God than others - is something I have no desire to support. Heaven forbid I continue to speak in ways that judge other churches, and dare I say, other faiths, when I am not God. I no longer want to take the role of judge on people and communities I know nothing about and regret some of the attitudes and paradigms I have been taught and that I have encouraged others to believe and act out.
I honestly have taken a look at my own life and the way I conduct myself. I have much growth to enter into. I am so very far from being like Christ, and finally being free to acknowledge that opens me up to the responsibility to change and be accountable for the life I live and the people I influence. I feel lighter because of it, too, no longer feeling the burden to convince myself that because I am forgiven and have God's grace I am able to live a 'perfect' life, but able to sit with the immensity of what his forgiveness and grace actually means moments after I have said or done something decidely un-Christ-like.
Some would be anxious that I have taken this stand; others celebrating my process. But what I want to express is that as I continue to seek God himself, I want to seek him free from liturgy and religious activities, despite how good some of these practices actually are. I want to let the generational garments of religious belief drop away, pull the cotton wool from my ears and position myself before the Maker, await his voice and learn to keep mine silent while he reveals himself to me fully.
If we say we trust God to work all things for our good, then that also includes trusting that he knows our hearts and can handle the occasional season of us walking away from the predictable and expected. It means leaning into who he is outside of the church, letting him show us his largess. It means taking faith to a new dimension where we are truly living outside of what we know and completely reliant on him walking beside us and pointing the way back to him. Perhaps it even is the definition of faith itself...
I have no idea what my journey holds and as a writer, I have no idea what it will reveal in me. But one thing is for sure: I want to be confident that if the church disappears and I have no Bible to rely on and no Christian community to lean on, I know who my God is. And right now, I don't.
And I am finally okay with that.
May you be blessed today and always,
Miriam E. Miles
I write despite trying not to. I cry and bleed and laugh into the page. What you see is what you get.