I think it was Christmas about 8 or 10 years ago. I sat in a midnight mass at a Catholic church in Kansas City with my parents, my brother and sister and my wife. The priest stood at the altar and straightforward pointed out contradictions in The Bible. I don't recall what those contradictions were, exactly, just that they existed. I'm pretty sure that his point was to explain why those contradictions existed and what they meant but my mind locked on the existence of these contradictions. It was then, ironically on Christmas day, that my distaste for the church took firm root and began to grow.
I want you to note that I did not say I had a distaste for God or Jesus or The Bible or religion itself. I have come to think of myself as a Christian agnostic. I believe in God or a supreme being by whatever name you wish to attach. There are too many mysteries and everyday miracles in life and evolution for me to believe otherwise. I believe in Jesus Christ and that he is of God and that he performed miracles and was tortured and died so that we might live.
For some reason I find it hard to write that he is our savior - my savior - and only through him can we be accepted into heaven. In my core I think I believe that but maybe I've spent too many years distant from God. Maybe I am trying not to offend. Maybe the Catholic in me (I was raised in the Catholic church) doesn't want my dad to hear me talking like that. Catholics aren't big on witnessing.
I began to think about The Bible. The books of The Bible were written so long ago in a language so forgotten that in order to read them we had to find a tablet translating them into a language we knew. As anyone who has studied a foreign language knows, there's always something lost. It can be as overt as a misinterpreted word or as hidden as a lack of requisite word in the destination language that captures the nuanced connotation of the original word. Then I started thinking about the different versions, or translations, of The Bible. One source I found said there are 233 in the English language alone. A few of the major versions are the New International Version, The King James Version, and The New American Standard Bible. Then there are paraphrased versions. I once looked at one of those and Psalm 23 read, "even though I walk through the valley of the shadow, I am not afraid." Wouldn't you agree that saying it that way waters it down quite a bit?
My biggest problem, however, is the variations in organized religions. Catholic, Baptist, Protestant, Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopalian, Mormon, 7th Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witness... These are really what I turned my back on. Some of them say they are the one true religion and that people from certain other religions are going to hell because of their beliefs. I can't abide that.
When we moved to Boise, Idaho in April of 2007 our apartment was just down the street from a Catholic church. I went a couple of times while we were there - and I won't go into my thought processes during the 6 months we were in Idaho, it would take too long - but haven't stepped foot in a church of any type since we returned almost six years ago. And that includes Christmas and Easter.
But today I went to church.
In the years leading up to and since our temporary relocation to Idaho we have had one financial (and emotional) crisis after another. Our savings has been depleted and we live moment to moment some days. A paycheck just means we get to come back to zero for a little while. Don't get me wrong, we're not destitute but, for the most part, we merely exist. Even the simplest of excursions - say, to see my parents 300 miles away - requires careful planning and saving and sacrifice. As a temporary measure this wouldn't be so bad but it's been going on for more than six years. It wears you down.
I used to pray to God for "enough" and he has treated us well in providing that. But lately "enough" just doesn't bring the inner peace that I know God can provide. So I have prayed. I have asked God to lift us up and to help my wife to find a job (she's experienced, educated, and good at what she does but nearly 3 years of intense effort has yielded almost nothing), and to bring us enough wealth and good fortune to bring that inner peace and allow us to visit family and friends without worry or major sacrifice, and to share our good fortune with those in need.
And God answered. He said to me that in order for him to help me all I needed to do was to devote some time to Him. To learn about Him and keep His message flowing to me and through me. And I asked God where I should do that. I asked him about the conflict He knew I already had in my heart. I resisted him with my confusion and he finally said to me what I needed to hear. God told me that it doesn't matter where I go or what teacher I listen to. It just matters that I devote my time and my heart to Him. Listen to His message, in whatever form it takes, and allow Him to shape it in my ears and my mind and in my heart into the truth and understanding.
For the first time in twenty years or more I am planning to go to church again next Sunday. The church I went to today was not the church for me and I may visit several congregations before I find that one where I feel I belong. But I was there. I gave time to God and I need to continue to give God his time so that I may know Him and he may know me in order to allow him to fulfill my needs according to his plan.