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Credulous

By Andrea Lingle

Two years ago, my second child told me she didn’t want to get married. I paused the dishwashing I was doing, suspicious that there was a reason she felt compelled to announce this. After a little digging I discovered that she didn’t want to get married because she didn’t want to have children because...

If she had children, she couldn’t be an artist.

Now, at the time that she made this announcement, I was (and still am) the mother-figure that formed her reference frame. She wanted to be an artist, but she thought she couldn’t if she became a mother. It was hard to deny that she had gotten that idea from me. I was a writer, but I had been writing furtively before the sun came up or after my kids went to bed or when they were occupied so that my kids wouldn’t feel neglected.

Then I got an email soliciting book proposals for the Missional Wisdom Foundation Library. Actually, I was copied on the email so that, as the Foundation’s editor, I would be aware of the editing projects coming my way. But, it was invitation enough. I wanted to be a mother AND a writer, so I submitted a book proposal one afternoon with my kids jostling my elbow.

I don’t know if Annabel will get married or have kids. That is up to her. But what is up to me is having the courage to show them who I am. To show them that even mothers, even lay-people, even I can pursue that which burns from the inside.

For me this is confronting and writing about theology.

Credulous is a memoiresque journey through the movements of a traditional mainline worship service. I began with the Prelude and Welcome and Greeting and wrote through the Benediction. I wondered why we have Children’s Church when the Community of God is, according to Jesus, of children. I pressed into familiar bible stories and found things that surprised me. Even after a thousand, thousand readings. I allowed my broken-heartedness a place to be acknowledged and met, not with answers, but with Doxology. Each section drew me down different paths of questioning, wrestling, and healing.

And, as I walked the path of this book, I found that I had a new identity: I had become a lay-theologian.

Excerpt from Credulous

Scripture Reading—John 1:1–5

Today’s reading comes from the Gospel of John, the first chapter, verses 1 through 5.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

This is the word of God for the people of God.

Thanks be to God.

It all began with a word. When God gave permission to the light, when God called the light into being, when that first creative word was spoken into the singularity of a beginning, energy and mass bloomed into being: light. That same Word was born into the light from the darkness of a womb.

The Word, the calling forth, the naming of light, is a thing of joy and creation. Scripture is a collection of words that tell a story of light, confusion, failure, love, fear, and joy. It tells of grief and abandonment and it tells of hope and inclusion.

And these words have been used to exclude, control, justify, and abuse. The Bible has been propped up as the God-breathed, literal history and catechism of the Divine and, as such, God has been trapped in the unintelligible traditions and expressions of an ancient civilization.

The Bible is aggravating. It can be obtuse. It taught me not to raise my hand because I am a woman. It has caused shame because it turns out that bulldozers, not my faith, move mountains. It has taught me to pity those who do not know the way, the truth, and the life. The Bible had a happy ending for those who made it through. They would spend pristine eternity in heaven. But those who did not? They would burn in their shame.

The Bible has become the word of God for us, the people of God. It has become the constitution for the empire of God. We, as a group of people, are self-selecting as the people of our God. Now, I am assured by my in-house Master of Divinity that us does not belong in this phrase, but many times I think that it is implied.

Us, the people of God.

The chosen people.

We, the self-contained, strangely warm, self-assured chosen, claim this Word, this Gospel, these promises, for ourselves. Our privacy fences are made of bricks and stone and stained glass. If you choose to join us, then you can also count yourself among the people of God to whom this word belongs, but if you are not one of us, you will become an other: and others are terrifying.

Humans are social creatures, descended from persons for whom survival depended on being accepted into a tribe, and we are loath to risk tribal rejection and prone to tribal definition. There are the fun tribes: Duke vs. UNC, Cavs vs. Golden State, Star Wars vs. Star Trek. Artificial tribes to whom we can pledge allegiance where the stakes are low. And there are places where that which divides us is harmful: race, income level, education, gender, sexuality, religion.

Religious tribal boundary lines are dangerous. The body count is staggering and fear has made demons out of what lies just beyond our understanding. We make lists of acceptable behaviors and invoke our knowledge, hoping that we will somehow tip the scales of judgment in our favor. And if we have to thumb the scales by pointing out our relative goodness, real or created, eternal security for me and mine is worth a bit of honest connivance.

Religion does not seem to be interested in good publicity for God. Rites, doctrines, and laws have chiseled stone churches, temples, and mosques out of the unbreakable stone of rules and pathways and checkboxes. A lovely collection of homogeneous people selling baked goods for the benefit of those who are not like us. Our determination to provide some rationale for what we say and do has led us to create a rigid catechesis to define who God is and who God isn’t and what qualifies as service to and love of our God. Our scriptures have become a divider between those who are in and those who are out: the narrow path of salvation, the stiff arm of doctrine, held out to keep us safely in the right. If you want our love and community, you have to check your uncertainty and otherness at the door because we won’t harbor your questions or your doubt or your differences here.

I put the Bible down a long time ago. The years without a Daily Quiet Time are piling up. But, when I want to say something, when I am trying to explain why hearing my children sing makes me cry, when I am trying to translate the feeling I get when I am sitting on my porch watching a dozen kinds of butterflies feasting from tiny floral goblets, I reach for Scripture. Even with all of its inconsistencies and the pain it has caused, parts of Scripture make my whole self sing. It is in the Scriptures that I find permission to cast into the deep water, I hear that my body, made in the image of God, is very good, and I find, when I sit quietly enough, its stories rise within me like a bush full of butterflies.

Lingle, Andrea L.. Credulous: A Journey Through Life, Faith, and the Bulletin (Missional Wisdom Library: Resources for Christian Community Book 5) Cascade Books.

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