Faith is like riding a bike. When I was younger, I was with my parents on a tricycle. I went to whichever church they wanted to attend and absorbed everything they said and everything the church said. When I went to college, I took the training wheels off, but I stayed on the sidewalks in the same neighborhood. For the first time, I was in charge of where I went to church. But I still attended a similar type of church. My beliefs altered some, but not in a dramatic way. Now I’ve left the neighborhood. I’ve found different paths previously undiscovered. I’ve ventured past “Do not enter” signs. I’ve ventured off the road. I am now exploring ideas I was told were wrong and questioning ideas I was told to believe.
I’m thankful for the base of faith my home church gave me. They taught me that Jesus died for me, that I was unconditionally loved, and if I let him, Jesus would work through me. But along with the good lessons, there is now pain as I’ve realized that some of what I was taught, both explicitly or implicitly, I find to be wrong. I’ve questioned what I was taught about gender in the church, the LGBTQ community, the role of the church in a secular world, the church and politics, sexuality, biblical interpretations, and so much more. Something I feel that I was implicitly taught was that we weren’t supposed to know about other religions. So of course that’s exactly what I’m exploring now.
Our LVC home attended a Shabbat service in the wake of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. When I walked in, while I didn’t exactly get the feeling that I was doing something wrong, I still had a strange feeling as if I were toeing the line. The temple was packed. There were a few scattered seats left and people were already standing in the back or in the aisles to the edge. The Rabbi asked for those who had an empty seat by them to raise their hands. Three of us sat down together on the left side. A young dark-haired couple in front of us offered one of their prayer books and paper service guides. They smiled and welcomed us. There were few times I felt that welcome in my own Christian church.
We had the opportunity to read the Quran when our spiritual mentor came over to lead us through a chapter. As we began, I had a feeling in my stomach – like I accidentally ate the seed or a core of a fruit I wasn’t supposed to. At the same time, a spinning glee. I was doing something I wasn’t supposed to – and it was good for me.
I was surprised to find that the Quran wasn’t that different from the Bible. If I hadn’t had as much experience with the Bible, I might not have known the difference. And of course, there’s the difference of Jesus as Messiah versus prophet, but how many other difference were there, really? Perhaps there were even more similarities than differences.
With the same leader, we had a discussion on sexuality. From my pre-teen years, I had the “sex is great but only within marriage” drilled into my brain. I can’t help but wonder where in the Bible it actually says that. I agree that sex should be held in high regard, as intimate as it is, but why do we believe it can only be in marriage? What taught us that? If it’s not true, how do we unlearn and destigmatize it?
I’ve attended a few religious gatherings throughout my 23 years. Catholic, Episcopalian, non denominational, Lutheran, Covenant, Jewish, and now Presbyterian (fun fact: I didn’t know the church I currently attend was Presbyterian until two to three months in – who knew?). As I said, I’m grateful for the base of faith my home church taught me. But opening my eyes to other ideas and unlearning ideas I now think are wrong or misleading has caused pain and confusion. And it’s also created a drive to learn and understand, to ask myself “Why do I believe what I believe? Do I actually believe this, or did I internalize this? What this something I was taught and accepted without question? How do I own my faith?” My housemates have challenged me as well as they share their own beliefs and we ask each other questions.
I’m grateful for the opportunity to go off road regarding my faith this year, and beyond. I might get a few cuts and bruises and fall off my bike. I’m not even sure what my destination is. But there’s so much more to learn when you take off the training wheels and leave the neighborhood.
By: Elizabeth Bonin, Koinonia House