As a family, we have grown together over the past four years in our faith dialogue. There have been growing pains for sure. For instance, Phil and I started our first year of homeschooling as Old Earth Creationists and interpreted the Genesis story fairly literally. Now we accept evolution in its entirety--all the way down to the shared genes with primates. Our kids have watched and listened as we shifted and changed our direction over the years. They’ve been a huge part of the story. I like that they have walked it with us. We’ve explored hard things together, re-shaped our limited literal view of the bible, and talked openly about hard topics (abortion, sexuality, other faiths-- all of it).
I remember at the beginning of the shifting, someone telling us to be careful about the ‘slippery slope.’ It supposedly started with gender-role equality in church and marriage, problems with inerrancy, then the evolutionary science in which you no longer see Adam and Eve as historical figures, an acceptance of homosexuals, and finally you just give up on Jesus. Because you’ve messed with the bible so much, you can no longer figure out which parts are eternally true and which parts are antiquated storytelling.
The words “slippery slope” are thrown around in Christian circles usually with little understanding of the actual processes involved in the so called ‘sliding.’ The short sighted assumption is that one or two small shifts in belief lead to a tremendous descent into a very unbiblical spirituality. The term keeps us in check because it instills fear. We want to have a valid faith, so we stay away from the cliffs. We want to be poster Jesus followers, so we do not play by the edge. The funny thing is that Jesus lived his life at the bottom. Over and over, he is creating space in the low places and then saying, “This is where I’ll be.” I like to think most religious people 2,000 years ago watched and listened to Jesus and thought, that guy is on the slippery slope.
As my own faith started painfully shifting, I hoped I could allow some alterations, but remain secure on the summit of faith…that I could adjust my sails a little (like be a Jesus feminist or accept evolution), but I would not slide down to the bottom (accept homosexuality or consider the possibility that other faith traditions are honored by God). Little by little, even as I dug my heels in and tried scratching my way back to higher places, I could feel the descent. I hate rollercoasters and I detest the freefall rides. I involuntarily curse a lot on these things. My kids count the curses and tell me afterwards how many times I said ‘shit.’ God has heard me curse a lot over the last four years, too.
The reality is that I cannot invalidate or deny that some progression occurs-- all things are connected in some way. My favorite word in the whole English vocabulary is ‘sonder’. It is defined as follows: n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk. When I was a kid, and we were driving in the dark of the evening, my mom would always comment how she loved to peek in the windows of the houses we passed. The lights were on, window curtains pulled back. And sometimes the old house we saw a hundred times before, the one that looked only semi-cared for or maybe a little broken down, would come to life. People would be sitting around a table. Walls were filled with photos, candles twinkled. I looked forward to certain houses, because I knew they were alive inside. Glowing. I am learning to start here with myself and others—assume that we are all a complex mix of story, experience, and light and not a mere structure of mostly correct or terribly incorrect thinking, that we all have truth to offer.
A few years ago, I found a blogpost that didn’t just critique the slippery slope, but formulated a better shape and understanding of it. The graph was specifically addressing inerrancy, but I think it offered me a sigh of relief at the time. Since then, I picture the “slippery slope” as a soundwave. My faith has a frequency, a heartbeat. Some days I live in the valleys and feel more like an atheist or agnostic than a Christian. I’ve tried holding on to certain narratives or doctrines I thought were untouchable or somehow validated my faith before others, but eventually my stubborn fingers relent, my hands open, and I’m left with what feels like emptiness in this place. But, I’ve learned through it all, this is never the end. Something far more rich and wide is always given back to me. And my faith swells and deepens-- and then I find myself rising again. Valleys and mountaintops. Darkness and light. Doubting and trusting.
I listened to a podcast this week where Rob Bell talked about pinning down a butterfly. By the time you’ve got the thing pinned still, it’s already dead. I’m not trying to pin down my beliefs anymore. I feel safe to live in freedom. I believe in a God big enough to love me even when I’m wrong or still figuring things out.
So as we have moved and talked as a family unit, all while our individual hearts shift and beat inside us, we do not fear the ‘descent.’ It is where we have met God. Two weeks ago, Niamh sat in the truck with me, and somehow homosexuality came up. We talked about different viewpoints, our own consciences, and that we should believe first in a good, loving God. She told me “I’ve never really thought about it as bad, mom. I think there are really good families who have two dads or two moms.” And I exhaled a little. We are okay with our kids treading these places now. Working out their faith. Owning their belief system. I’m thankful for a daughter who believes in goodness and grace and thinks through nuances and complexities rather than seeing the world in black and white. She will offer tired souls a safe place. She will see people and not labels or stereotypes. She will know that as you turn the prism of a life, you see a million hues and a spectrum of light-- and we are not structures only, but unfolding stories, too.
I think there are many families who hold hands and cross, together, the lines that neatly defined their faith years ago. It is a sacred thing to do with children-- navigate the hard places in freedom and grace. I believe in it. Too many millennials are leaving church because in their youth they were given a box that contained a statement of faith, some creeds, and God himself. Eventually, life, experience, and the secular world shakes the box apart, and we realize it only housed a God we had made for ourselves: easy, safe, and obvious. But I get super excited over this place—the messy, ‘slippery slope’, upended faith place. If we celebrated these parts of the faith journey, people could be included not excluded. Loved, not judged. Safe, not dangerous. I love a wandering heart because it is the vehicle through which I fell in love with God again, and I know it is an opportunity to deconstruct some structures and assumptions. Instead of rebuilding with rigid framework and impenetrable walls, we find that our faith is better for the wild freedom of soft lines and fluidity.
Science is my very favorite place to sit with new ideas and challenges to our faith and bible. I grew up loving science, but fearing it too. As I began to accept evolution as an adult, I worried that I would be forced to leave my faith behind. As I pressed in, evolution offered this exquisite, beautiful story about life and a God of process and deep time. It stood in contrast to a 6-day creation (which surely speaks to God’s power) in that it revealed incredible investment and artistic integrity. While I do not think it matters AT ALL what we believe about creation regarding our faith, I do think our learning posture in it sets the stage for how we dialogue across the gamut of faith conversations. Evolution in its entirety caused a chain reaction in much of what I held tight; but the gift is that I no longer fear science—or the bible. I can embrace life on other planets (it’s out there in some form— get used to the idea), neanderthals (the amount of time I’d spent worrying over those guys is.just.weird.), an evolving universe (instead of a fallen-from-perfection universe), the deeply beautiful humanity of the scriptures (differentiated from seeing them as mostly or fully divine), and all the tensions and different theologies that make up our bible (the writers and editors of scripture were on individual and collective faith journeys, too). One of our biggest obstacles as parents has been the lack of resources for our children in this. However, we’ve learned that the answer is not in a meshing of God and secular science— like no book or curriculum is going to give five neat bullet points for kids on to how to love Jesus and accept evolution. Is there a better way to embrace emerging science that speaks to multiple universes (quantum mechanics will likely provide the next biggest obstacle to a literal bible viewpoint in the very near future) and life emerging from non-living matter (why do we equate purpose with instantaneous life)? For us, the best way forward has been in safe conversations, embracing science, and loving God. And not fearing that one excludes the other.
One direction I’d like to take this blog is helping other people create good dialogue in this area for their families. Questions are a good way forward. Story is a good way forward (knowing someone’s story softens the heart immediately). Trusting that God loves you even if you have a few things wrong— that is a good way forward. I’ve written this post over and over; I’m still deep within my own learning and figuring-it-out stages. (Pretty sure this will last my whole life!) But I figured a rainy Monday is as good a day as any to share my heart and start somewhere. I hope to publish a monthly blog dedicated specifically to navigating science and faith conversations within the context of a family unit (including children)— questions, resources, books, links to people who lead well in this area, and our own continuing story through it all. Mostly, I want people who are knee-deep in it to know that there are others already waiting for you at the bottom of the hills. We love Jesus. We believe in a loving God. We sit with our bibles and read the Psalms. We have a deep, rich faith too. The Gospel lies perhaps the most alive within the valleys we tread.
"When someone in vulnerability tells you everything they’ve known has fallen apart,
the correct response is not to quote scripture,
the correct response is not biblical apologetics,
the correct response is a hug.
The correct response is to say, I love you.
They have to encounter an impossible love.
It’s the only way the gospel comes to life.”