To My Dear Christian Friends on the Inside*,
I know that you love me.
I know that because you love me you’re worried about me right now.
I know that you feel that I’ve been led astray down the rebellious path of the prodigal, that I’ve somehow been deceived into darkness and you are gravely concerned for the eternal destination of my soul.
I know you believe that I am currently quite lost and you’re praying tirelessly for me to find my way back before it’s too late.
I know this because when I believed what you believe, I feared the same things about people like me.
I remember looking at those who stand where I now stand and feeling what I believed was a holy compassion for them. I remember well, wanting with great urgency to save them from the destruction they were choosing.
I realize now how arrogant it was for me to assume that because they’d reached different conclusions than I had, that their faith journey was any less valid, and less life-giving, any less true, that God was any less present.
That’s why I’m writing you today: to thank you for worrying about me, for praying for me, and for loving me.
And because I love you, I want to share with you what it’s really like here on the outside, because back then I couldn’t have known and I wish I had. It would have changed my prayers and my words and my very heart toward those who were in this same place.
Here on the outside, yes the answers are less clear than they were inside, but there is great wonder in the search. It is the unpredictable journey of an expectant child exploring a new patch of untouched forest. The path now wildly meanders into places I was told never to go when I was comfortably inside; to new understandings of the Bible, to ancient spiritual practices and different faith traditions, into Science and Philosophy and Art. And the most glorious discovery is finding out that everywhere we plant our feet, God is there waiting. This great big God is indeed far too big to be relegated only to the inside.
Here on the outside Certainty isn’t as treasured as Authenticity. The questions are not character flaws, the doubts not deficiencies, the vacillations not moral failings. They are all the symptoms of a humble heart which realizes the search itself is a sacred thing; that when Jesus tells us to “ask and seek and knock”, he is inviting us beyond the confines of whatever container we might previously have fashioned for God. Once we began to step outside of that constrictive space, we found ourselves moving into the wide expanse of a life fully saturated with Divinity—and we could breathe there.
One of the biggest misconceptions about the outside is that it is a dark place; that there is a coldness and heaviness and sadness here. I used to believe that when I was on the inside, but in truth it was more wishful thinking. I needed to believe that because it helped reinforce my story that I was one of the few enlightened and they among the masses lost in shadow. It made it far easier to assume a posture of moral superiority that way and to subjugate my own nagging soul questions. All I can tell you is that there is brilliant light here. There is laughter and discovery and warmth and community and goodness and grace—and God.
When I was on the inside I remember how important labels were for those who were different. They helped quickly and easily delineate the saved from the sinners, the lost from the found, the righteous from the wicked. These words formed the very clear wall between insiders and outsiders; the wall I fortified and defended.
When people stepped beyond whatever I saw as the inside, I labeled them:
So trust me when I tell you I understand why you use these words for me now. I know they give you some comfort and offer some sense of control, so I don’t take offense at them and I don’t have malice toward you for using them.
I can only tell you that these words do not define me.
They do not stick to me.
They are not labels deserving of me or my journey, or any of those out here with me who are seeking and searching with as much care and integrity and diligence and faith as you are there.
I realize it is likely that these words will matter very little to you. I suspect they will not change your mind about my eternal destination or my moral condition or the legitimacy of my current conclusions. I know that you may not be willing or able to see that we are actually on the same beautiful road, just in different places.
I am still a Christian and still the Church and still beloved by God, and I rest in those truths as I continue to navigate the journey even when other things seem less clear. I am confident that unorthodox is not ungodly.
I know you will probably continue to worry about me and pray for me, and in your way love me—and I am grateful.
And I will love you, by remembering what it was like to be on the inside; to see your heart even in the times your words or your silence damage me.
I will that pray you find compassion and mercy for those who do not believe exactly as you believe, and that you come to trust that God is large enough to speak to both of us simultaneously; whether on the inside or the outside.
Most of all I pray that we will both see this God fully from where we currently stand; wild, untamable, uncontainable, and remember that in this shared orientation toward Love—we are the same.
Peace and Love,
A Backsliding, Prodigal, Heretic, Chasing God Here on the Outside
*The Inside, may be Christian orthodoxy or rigid tradition or any place where one has determined they have all the answers to the deepest questions of this life; where or when they view those outside of that place as morally inferior or as less intelligent, sincere, or faithful.