It’s not really a secret… I (gasp!) married an agnostic.
Agnostic isn’t really the best word to describe the wonderful, handsome, kind, man I married but it’s the best word the English language has. It’s not that he doesn’t believe in God. And it’s not that he does believe in God. He more, just… doesn’t care.
What he does care about is me. So, bless him, every Sunday he shows up in church, shakes hands, helps out, waits for me to finish talking to people and generally does a wonderful job as a pastor’s husband. It’s a testament to him and the churches we have attended that Darren accepts the beliefs of the church as valid and likewise the church accepts Darren as a valued member of the congregation.
Every Sunday during the morning service I spend at least a few minutes watching him from across the gulf. Me up on high scanning out over the congregation in my robe and stole. He, sitting alone in the back in jeans and a polo with the other humble regulars. I watch him sing my favorite hymns, and laugh at jokes peppered in the sermon, and at lunch after church he helps me analyze the various aspects of the service and sermon. What I did well and what I could have done better, or a particularly good point the lead pastor made.
Yet he says again and again he hasn’t really ever thought about God and doesn’t really care to.
You would think this would be a problem, a pastor and an agnostic. Like a honey badger and a mongoose deciding to get married, but it’s really not. We’ve argued about listening skills, money, sex and family… but never religion. I argued way more about religion with other ministers I dated before meeting Darren than I ever have with him (there is a sermon series in that statement).
It’s a slightly better kept secret that I struggle with finding a balance between my orthodox beliefs and my loyalty to intellectualism. Over the last few years I’ve tried very hard fit the stories I was enthralled with as a child into the laws of physics I recognize as an adult.
It’s hard to do. If I step outside of Christianity and read the Bible, it’s no more believable than fairy tales. A man who built an ark that fit two of every kind of animal? A warrior bringing down a city wall with music? A runaway prophet consumed and vomited by a whale? A man claiming to be God…dying and rising from the dead? It’s all so fantastical, like a poorly written episode of Game of Thrones.
To help reconcile my mind, over the years I’ve let myself loose parts of my sacred text. I’ve forced myself to hold onto the Apostle’s Creed as something I need to believe to call myself a Christian, but allowed myself to be okay looking at the rest of the stories of the Bible as mostly exaggerated with real and beautiful grains of truth. And that’s worked pretty well for me for several years.
But in the mean time I’ve lost the virgin birth, I’ve lost Moses, I’ve lost many miracles, I’ve questioned the resurrection and tried to find a way to fit it into both theology and science.
And one day, a Sunday in advent, I was sitting behind the alter looking out through the congregation at the beautiful stained glass window listening to the choir sing. I sat there and wished I had the beliefs of my childhood. The literal belief that all in the Christmas story was true. I felt nostalgic for all the wonder and excitement I felt at a God of miracles during that holy time of year.
It was then I allowed myself to miss the irrational stories that kept me up at night with my flashlight reading my children’s Bible until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I missed the mystery. I missed the wonder. Then I began to wonder why I simply couldn’t just believe. Why I couldn’t just live in the irrational and all the wonder and joy that it brings me. I decided the answer to that was I could. I could be okay with the Bible not fitting into my understanding of science because the Biblical narrative enriched who I was and my experience life.
Now, I didn’t turn into a 1-800-FOR-TRUTH operator (have you seen those billboards?? I’ve wanted to call that number for ages but Darren says I can’t from my cell phone and need to wait until I can use the work phone or my parents house phone 🙂
Argh. Yes. Well. Anyway. That’s to say I’m not convicted enough about the truth of the stories to tell other people they need the literal belief to know and experience the True God. So many people work different from me. I’m a narrative and story based person. I’m okay living in experience and not science. But there are so many people who don’t operate inside that frame work. They live in science, and it would hurt many more spiritual journey’s than it would help to insist the stories are literally true.
When we walked home from church that day I told Darren about my thoughts and new found resolution to embrace the unbelievable and he said “Is it really that hard to believe?”
I’ll admit coming from my agnostic husband this surprised me a little bit. He’s always supportive but this went beyond support. He followed up that miraculous statement with all the things in nature that didn’t make sense. He reminded me of sea creatures that change sex organs, so in that light the virgin birth didn’t seem that unbelievable. He reminded me that about once a week (or more) I watch resurrections as I watch one human pound on another human’s chest while a bag blows air into their lungs so they can come back to life. That sounds pretty unbelievable, too, when you step outside your knowledge frame.
So many things in this world are unbelievable, is it so hard to believe that a creator God who created the unbelievable would continue to work inside that fantastical framework?
As a little kid my mom used to gather me onto her lap and read Shel Silverstein’s poems. What I loved about Silverstein was so many of his poems seemed to be pot induced rants, but then again so many seemed to be God inspired sacred texts. One of the poems that stuck with me all these years is
Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,
Listen to the DON’TS
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
The IMPOSSIBLES, the WONT’S
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me-
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be
A friend of mine has argued for years that the Bible should be ever expanding, that if Paul’s letters can make it into the New Testament than so should C.S. Lewis. It’s an interesting thought I’ve chewed on over in my mind over the years, and if I could add a poem to the New Testament I’d toss old Shel in there. It allows for a God to be beyond us and for that to be okay.
I’ve been thinking of all the beauty we can gain when we allow ourselves to have good and honest conversations with people outside our own beliefs on their terms instead of our own. Darren easy could have operated in his frame work and said “hold up there FOR TRUTH operator, life doesn’t work like that. You’ve admitted before it’s not real. You’re believing in a lie.” Instead Darren worked instead of my frame work to help me grow as a human and a spiritual being. That’s a pretty cool thing to be able to do for another human.
It took an agnostic to teach me orthodoxy. It’s a reminder to me how much can be learned from people whose brains don’t think quite like our own.
Has anyone outside of your beliefs ever taught you a powerful lesson? Comment below, I want to hear about it.