It was a warm Sunday in July when I got to wear a swimsuit to church, a Little Mermaid one, in fact. My mother fussed over my hair after removing the light pink hair bow and replacing it with some bobby pins. As she and one of the other mothers carefully slipped the white robe with a weighted hem over my head, she imparted the age-old motherly wisdom. “Smile. Don’t be shy. Speak loudly enough so Grandma Mimi and Aunt Judy and Uncle Frankie can hear you.”
I was ushered into the warm water moments later by a kind woman wearing a floral dress and big, thick-lensed glasses. I had seen this spot before, I had watched countless children like me enter into this place and heard the murmurs that their lives were forever changed as they climbed back out again.
Standing in the middle, in front of the large, wood-paneled back wall bearing three crosses was our charismatic senior pastor, whose thick white hair and perfectly groomed mustache made him one of the most recognizable men in the town much less the church. He warmly greeted me like an emcee calling a timid performer out onto the stage in front of a live audience.
This was it. This was the moment. It would all be different from now on.
As I was plunged into the water, what was promised to be clarity suddenly melted into panic. Did I take a big enough breath? Is water getting in my nose? How long before he brings me back up again?
And just like that, it was over. There were hugs and “atta-girl’s” and “I’m so proud of you’s,” and cake, and congratulatory cards. And then it was life as it was before: school, choir, dance class, playground bickering, and math homework.
I was not as enlightened as I had hoped I would be. My questions did not have answers; in fact, I had more questions, but I quickly learned that while in school there are no “dumb questions,” in the church, there are forbidden ones that may or may not land you in the bad place, so it’s best to ask as few as possible, just in case.
The problem with not asking questions is eventually, you become so full of questions that you explode. If you are lucky, you will not explode during a training meeting for your senior high mission trip, in which you ask with the sincerity of the million bottled up questions: does God ever change? Like, does God evolve?
The blank stares made only worse by your youth adviser awkwardly chuckling and quoting Malachi 3:6 at you.
It was then that I realized I had done the thing. I had asked one of the forbidden questions. I apologized and sat quietly for the rest of the lesson, gripping my Case for Christ paperback, wondering how I could attain Lee Strobel’s level of certainty and if he ever asked the same forbidden questions.
Whether or not God evolves is an interesting thought to consider. I still have no answers for that, but I can say from personal experience that my faith certainly has.
It is not an easy thing to have an evolving faith. Most days, it drives me crazy. It means that the nice and neat little categories that I love so dearly get thrown around like a toddler with handfuls of glitter. It’s messy. The colors get mixed up. It takes forever to tidy up and sort out, and in fact, I may never actually get it sorted out.
It is hard to have an evolving faith because the Christian faith in America, by and large, is not one that was made to evolve. There are should’s and should not’s. There are yes’s and no’s. There are permissible things and forbidden things. There are good people and bad people. Poor people and rich people. There are virgins and floozies. There are the “good races” and the “less good races.” The “good sexualities” and the “bad sexualities.”
There are boxes, and the boxes were not meant to be reorganized.
It’s as if we are trying to cook a ham using directions written by a housekeeper from Edwardian England while the rest of the world has moved on to the convection oven. We insist that the ham will not be the same, that it will not be as “pure,” and that its delectable sugar-glazed coating will not stand up to such new-fangled innovations as a stainless-steel roasting pan.
We’re so obsessed with the trappings of “the thing” that we seem to have completely forgotten what “the thing” or its purpose actually was in the first place: to bring us closer to the God who made us. To bring us life and liberty and joy, real joy, not the cheap imitation stuff.
I am thankful for my faith. Period. Full stop.
I am thankful for my childhood in a church that was insistent that I be able to find 2 Kings 6 in less than 15 seconds. I really am. But I’m also thankful for the call to grow, and to learn, and to ask questions, and that somewhere along the way, someone told me that such things were okay, and that God could handle my ridiculous questions for which there may not be pat answers.
In the words of the late Rachel Held Evans to Jen Hatmaker, “This work is hard. Stay faithful.”
It is indeed hard work to grow in faith. It’s not always easy, it certainly pushes us to the edge and back time and time again, but what a joy it is to keep going. Stay faithful friends. Show up. Come again and again to Christ’s table and eat with the rest of us curious folks who happened to get invited to this weird party, and ask all the questions you need.