The problem of believing more or less (literally) what everyone else does

Barbara Brown Taylor - Leaving ChurchBarbara Brown Taylor’s book Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith is giving me lots to think about.  Some of it is pleasant thinking; some of it is uncomfortably challenging.  The quote below falls in the latter category.

Who has not had a conversation with someone who questions some of the historically accepted details, yet desires to love and follow Jesus?  And who has not had a conversation with someone who continually discovers details about God that rank as highly as anything they read in Scripture?  For many evangelicals, our default mode is to “push” the first group of people towards “appropriate” beliefs and to “reign in” the “excessive” enthusiasm of the second group.  Note: I am not saying that either response is necessarily wrong; I’m questioning whether they should be our default responses, the mode in which we operate without truly listening to or understanding what we’re hearing from the other person.  Perhaps they have more to teach us than we initially think.

I [have] spent hours talking with people who had trouble believing. For some, the issue was that they believed less than they thought they should about Jesus. They were not troubled by the idea that He may have had two human parents instead of one or that His real presence with His disciples after His death might have been more metaphysical than physical. The glory they beheld in Him had more to do with the nature of His being than with the number of His miracles, but they had suffered enough at the hands of “true believers” [quotation marks added –SjG] to learn to keep their mouths shut.

For others, the issue was that they believed more than Jesus. Having beheld His glory, they found themselves running into God’s glory all over the place, including places where Christian doctrine said that it should not be. I knew Christians who had beheld God’s glory in a Lakota sweat lodge, in a sacred Celtic grove, and at the edge of a Hawaiian volcano, as well as in dreams and visions that they were afraid to tell anyone else about at all. These people not only feared being shunned for their “unorthodox narratives” [quotation marks added –SjG], they also feared sharing some of the most powerful things that had ever happened to them with people who might dismiss them.

Given the history of Christians as a people who started out beholding what was beyond belief, this struck me as a lamentable state of affairs, both for those who have learned to see no more than they are supposed to see as well as for those who have excused themselves from traditional churches because they see too little or too much. If it is true that God exceeds all our efforts to contain God, then is it too big a stretch to declare that dumbfoundedness is what all Christians have most in common? Or that coming together to confess all that we do not know is at least as sacred an activity as declaring what we think we do know?

(pp. 110-111)

3 thoughts on “The problem of believing more or less (literally) what everyone else does

  1. Monica deRegt says:

    Thanks for sharing that excerpt, I found it really interesting and, as quite often happens to me when reading articles or blogs, very timely in regards to things I am thinking about or dealing with in my own life. I just finished emailing a friend today that the one thing I want to make sure I teach my kids about God is that He is so much bigger than any box that anyone of us wants to put him in, and that in teaching my kids about God, I want to teach them that really we never stop learning about Him, and we’ll never know it all, and there is no one group that “knows it best”. If we think of Christianity in terms of our relationship with God, then I don’t find quotes like the one above too uncomfortable. In a relationship, we never stop getting to know the person we are with, and learning new things about them. But only if we make a conscious effort to spend time with them. People who never read God’s Word and claim to have a vibrant relationship with Him (and also understand Him to be a very different God than “most” Christians do) is like a husband saying he has a wonderful marriage to a wife he never ever speaks to. Anyways, my point is, the proving of the facts and details should not overshadow the importance of what God did for us and walking daily with him in a life of joy and gratitude as His children. When focusing on that, the rest of the details just don’t seem to matter as much!


  2. SjG says:

    Thank you Monica for your reflections and comments! I really appreciate them. We, too, hope our kids discover how God is “so much bigger than any box that any one of us wants to put Him in.” And my nearly 100-year-old grandma will affirm how learning more about God and loving Him is a lifelong process regardless of how old you get.


  3. […] I also quoted Leaving Church back in February here. – Posted by SjG Filed in Quotes & Media ·Tags: spiritual growth, rest, Sabbath, […]


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