For over a year now I’ve been describing myself as an Esoteric Christian. I adopted this terms before I fully understood what it meant, but I also knew that it was the best description of where I am in my faith journey. Whenever people ask me what an Esoteric Christian is, I jokingly respond, “it means I’m a Christian who’s into weird shit.”
I used to care so deeply.
I used to care so deeply about right belief, about Orthodoxy, about the church’s teachings and how to best live them out.
I used to care so much about being part of the inside, part of the Right Crowd. I used to care so deeply about not being cast outside for some minor heresy.
On Christmas Eve my partner and I watched an old favorite of mine: Donnie Darko. The film is a trippy, incoherent and yet strangely cathartic philosophical exploration of reality. Running through the film is Donnie’s struggles with belief in God. The film captures well the unreality and alienation that accompanies such deep exploration: little makes sense in this world, and we are surrounded by delusions and nightmares.
The scenes that struck me the most powerfully were the discussions Donnie has with his therapist about his struggles with belief in God.
For as long as I have had faith in God, I have also known doubt. My doubt and I have been in a dance for years, now, growing apart and then coming together, sometimes fighting, sometimes talking, sometimes choosing to understand one another.
As I struggle with navigating the faith I love so dearly, I turn to the internet for guidance, and I find a great deal of cerebral talk with little soul. I hear Sam Harris and Dawkins and Christian apologists talk about the pros and cons of faith, but what’s missing for me in almost all discussions about doubt is humanity.
In 2013, I was sick with heartbreak. My boyfriend, on a sunny January day in Baltimore, broke up with me.
He was a conservative Christian, and so was I. We both believed that homosexuality was not God’s best for humanity, and that it would be a sin to act on it. And yet, here we were: deeply in love, and now deeply heartbroken. We had lived in a horrible in-between place, unable to change our beliefs and unable to stop loving each other. The dissonance drove us mad, and it ended in him breaking up with me. I’d never known such rending emotional pain.
Wendy VanderWal-Gritter – a Christian thinker, ministry leader, and straight ally – has long struggled with the dynamic tensions of being a person of faith who also embraces the gay community.
Nearly every gay person raised in the Christian world has heard it at least once in their lives: “You know deep within your heart that what you are doing is wrong. You know in your heart that homosexuality is not God’s best for you, and you are just unwilling to admit it, running away from the truth.”
Far too often, we hear this from the people we love the most: old friends, pastors, parents and siblings – the people who raised us, nurtured us, taught us how to understand the world. They are concerned, well intentioned, unaware of just how damaging, belittling, dehumanizing those 9 little words are: “you know the truth deep down in your heart.”
American poet Mary Oliver begins her poem Wild Geese thusly:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Every so often, I find myself meditating on these lines. They represent a shift in my consciousness, a sea change in my faith and worldview. These words have been the theme of my growing up; of moving from boy to man.