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Facing a Crisis of Faith

Photo Credit: Ahmad Zamri

Faith In Crisis

Everyone faces it.

That point when your faith–what you know in your heart–comes up against the wall of your religious tradition and experience.

A traumatic incident or personal tragedy shakes you to your core and there is no way to move forward with superficially held dogmatic tenets.

This is the moment of truth–real faith seizes hold of you, or you abandon your spirituality, believing that it is synonymous with your religious tradition.

My Crisis

I was trembling.

The kind of tremor that is so profound it rocks your soul. So deep that the body is still and the eyes are dry.  Rage so intense that the soul burns, but the face is pale.

“Shoot the queers!”

“Get dem dar faggits!”

BANG!

The memory from fifteen years ago raced forward and enveloped my consciousness. I hadn’t exactly blocked it out, but I had completely disassociated myself from the experience.

At the time, I laughed just like everyone else. Now, I wept. I was raw and the tears no longer held back.

As a young teen, I had sat in a church sanctuary at a youth meeting. There was a skit on stage and two men stood there shooting blanks from large rifles into the empty balcony.  The concussion of the gunfire echoed around the auditorium.

Ka-Blam!  It sounded again.

About 500-800 teens cheered.  A roughly made, homemade dummy toppled over the edge of the balcony, falling to the aisle below.

They had “gotten” the faggit!

They were shooting ‘me.’  I realized.

Wrestling With Religion

I grew up a conservative Christian, and my religion had always provided a framework of structure and clarity for my faith.

But there came a day when it wasn’t clear. It wasn’t black and white. Maybe it had always been gray and I just hadn’t noticed before.

My religion (Christianity), my faith (what I believed) and my spirituality (who I was in connection to God) were all meshed together.  I had not recognized them individually.

A Great Divide

How do you reject bad behavior from those in the religious organization without simultaneously losing faith or rejecting your church?

The answer, for me, lay in recognizing and differentiating the three areas of my faith practice–religion (the organization),  faith (my belief system) and spirituality (my connection to God).

The reality is that nothing can separate me from my spirituality. The Bible says that nothing can “separate us from the love of God.” (Roman 8:38-39)

Therefore, my rejection of a specific portion of my religious affiliation or organization has nothing to do with my spiritual connection to God.

This is especially difficult when the organization is identified as the source and the way to God. It can be so hard to see the narrow separation between God and the Church.

You don’t have to fully reject either. Let me offer an analogy that I hope will help bridge that divide.

A New Paradigm

Photo Credit: Vancouver 125

Think back to the last time you attended a musical performance, dance or play that touched you deeply.  Remember how it felt to be transported with the power of the art?

Do you remember the feeling of timelessness? The tranquility? The expansion you felt within you?

I always feel this most deeply when I hear Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony or Handel’s Hallelujah.

God is in the music. The music hall becomes the sanctuary. We can feel it, but we can’t quite name it.  That is it, exactly!

The theater is our faith. Religion is simply the usher that leads us to our seat. It is merely the usher which brings us into the presence of God.

When you realize that you can experience God’s presence in every circumstance and in every place, then you can be at peace with the perfection of God and the imperfection of the usher.

God will be found, when we seek. (Jeremiah 29:13-14)

Your Turn!

Have you experienced a crisis of faith?  What insights or experiences helped you through it?  Did your faith grow stronger because of the challenging situation or did you separate yourself from your faith? Would love to get your perspective.

About Steve

Hi, I'm Steve Rice and my goal is to transform simple philosophical truths into practical fuel to revolutionize your life. It's not about self-help, it's about self-reliance. I show you how. Connect with me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter and let me know how I can help you.

  • Yes! Yes! Yes! This is awesome Steve. The most authentic post you’ve ever written, by far. And I adore this line: “…you can be at peace with the perfection of God and the imperfection of the usher.” I love that.

    Religions are political organizations. Seen through that lens, their actions make perfect sense. And yet, there are people within those religions that spread joy and connection. Many find their connection through religion. The trick is to remember that deep inside, we know whats our “truth”. And if we trust that more than any outside source, including the pastor, we can look past the political BS and pick out the nuggets of truth that serve us. Yay! Soooo proud of you!!!

    Huge hugs!
    Melody

    • Steve

      Thank YOU! This one really struck a chord with people. Can’t wait to get our discussion edited and share it with everyone. Probably going to turn it into some blog posts too! 🙂

      You’re exactly right…it’s about drawing the line between religion and faith and allowing each to be. Thanks again for your kind encouragement and support!

  • Kimmie Gibbons

    Hi Steve,

    Thank you for your posting. I love how you describe the theater, the music, and the usher 🙂 This makes so much sense. I have never had to separate my beliefs from any church or anything like this. I was never raised in a church although I did attend different churches rarely as a child, and always felt something was “off” for me. Because I didn’t “belong” anywhere” I didn’t feel like there was any break that ever needed to take place from a system or my thoughts and beliefs.Interestingly enough, I always had faith and belief in a “God” even though I was never raised this way. It just simply existed (quite a blessing, I might add). As an adult, I chose to attend a church called Unity church, where for the first time, I felt at “home”. At least more than I ever had. I DID have an experience once that I would love to share with you though. At this church it was their custom at the beginning of each new year for the members to each write a letter TO GOD, from themselves OR a letter to themselves, FROM GOD. This particular year, I chose to write a letter to myself FROM God. This was quite easy to do, as I knew exactly what God wanted to say to me. (Usually the opposite of what I would say to myself, and complete unconditional love). Sometime in the middle of the year, the church would mail you the letter that you had written and addressed to yourself or to God. The “funniest” thing happened. One day, in the middle of the year, for the FIRST time EVER in my life, I didn’t believe in God. I don’t remember what happened this day but for some reason, I lost the faith that I had had my entire life for 30+ years. My faith in God had ALWAYS been unshakable, and this had never, ever, happened. There was never a day, that I didn’t believe in God. But on this day, I remember clearly, for the first time, realizing and knowing, that God did not exist. It was a very sad day. Guess what? This is the day, I got the letter in the mail, from God, telling me how much he loved me and how proud of me he was. Needless, to say, I have never had another day of doubt, again. To this day, (and right now) I feel so emotional and loved every time I remember this day. Thank you for your posting as it gave me the opportunity to remember this most beautiful memory 🙂

    • Steve

      Kimmie,

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I appreciate you so much. I love that you found connection through Unity. I have a good friend who’s affiliated with the Unity Church and I have been on their online radio station with him.

      Thanks for sharing your story. It’s beautiful how the letter “from God” arrived at the most precious moment. I’m so thankful you got to relive that experience through my post. I felt the emotions you shared as you were relating the story. I have a huge grin on my face now and a heart full of gratitude.

  • Thank you, Steve, for such a raw look into religion and faith. I cannot even begin to say that I have had an experience like yours, but I understand (as much as I can) what religious organizations can do, unrepresentative of what they should be doing. Churches close too many doors, at times. I believe the way you define religion, faith, and spirituality are good ones. Very inspiring and though-provoking post. Keep doing this, and keep strong! Jon

    • Steve

      Thank you, Jon. The sympathy really means a lot. I know that many people come to a point when they feel betrayed by their religion…and then they feel that they have to turn their back on their faith because it is so intimately connected. That’s why I wanted to speak to this experience from my perspective.

      Appreciate your kindness and I’m so thankful to have connected with you.

  • Thank you for this honest and inspiring post about faith, Steve!

    I experienced a crisis of faith several times over in my life. My religious and mentally ill grandmother physically abused others in the name of her religion, burning our hands with matches so we would know the fires of hell and much worse forms of abuse. Her actions were not driven by her faith, nor her spirituality, but by the way her mental illness twisted the dogma of her religion into literal interpretations of her religious text and teachings.

    Because of the pain I have suffered in the name of religion, I often shy away from this topic and the mere mention of religion often fills me with anxiety and dread.

    I am, however, a faithful and spiritual individual. I loved your definition of faith and spirituality, and these ring true for me.

    I have spent years learning the wisdom of various religions, picking and choosing the beliefs that resonate with me personally. My belief system is ever-changing as I interact, learn, and grow in pursuit of living a great life and treating myself and others with kindness, compassion, honesty, and respect. My faith, like myself, is a work in progress.

    Chrysta

    • Steve

      Wow, Chrysta, my heart breaks for what you went through. It’s devastating enough to have a loved one struggle with mental illness, but to see that horrible disease manipulate your faith is really tough.

      I honor your courage in not only reading this post, but keeping an open mind and also sharing such a personal part of yourself so openly. I know that this topic (and even the word “religion”) is charged for so many people. In a way, that’s one reason why I wanted to speak to it. My religious faith is a big part of me and I am always sad when people have to leave their church because of some unfortunate experience.

      A few years ago, I wept with a friend struggling with the Church. He is Catholic and this was in the heart of the child sex abuse scandals that were rocking the church. He didn’t know whether to stay or leave the Church. We sat at mass and I cried inside because it was so beautiful, but he was hurting so badly.

      Fortunately, I was not engaged in the emotional drama of all the bad behavior. I was able to see the beauty and importance of the Church. And I even experienced God there. (That’s where the idea for the analogy of the usher and the theater came from).

      I am glad that despite leaving organized religion, you have held on to your faith (and of course, your spirituality). You are a bright light and have already enriched my life. Thank you.

  • Steve-this is a brave subject and you address the differences so beautifully. I think we all question our faith/connection to source at some point in our lives. Its what we glean from the dark night of the soul that determines how we will function thereafter. From my own personal experience I was brought up in the Christian faith like you but lost interest in the Institution due to the narrow-mindedness and double standards of many I came across who were not walking the talk. These days my connection to source is rock solid and I don’t need to confine that to a religion as such. For me it is a way of life and I focus my efforts on love and service and giving compassion and forgiveness to heal and create a better world.

    • Steve

      Thank you so much for your comment, Kath. I was encouraged by my friend, Melody to be more transparent on my site because there would be people who are struggling (or have struggled) like I did.

      I know what you mean about the apparent hypocrisy and narrow-mindedness that drives a lot of people away from the church. I’m SO thankful that you retained your connection to Source. That is the unshakable foundation that holds us from within.

      Ultimately, the values you live your life by are the values of Jesus Christ, anyway. You are truly “living out” your faith. I think St. James says that our faith should be evidenced by our works. That’s exactly as it should be.

      Appreciate your kind support and powerful insights.

  • Steve, I really enjoyed and appreciate your honesty in this post. I wrote one last week that was similar about Knowing the Truth for ourselves. Although I wasn’t specifically talking about religion per say, I certainly wasn’t excluding it either.

    Much like you I grew up within the Christian faith. My grandmother would have me in church every single time the doors swung open. And I’ll be truthfully honest with you, it kept me out of a lot of trouble that I might have been in otherwise.There were no football games, dances, or any other school extra curriculum’s for me until later in my high school years; it wasn’t until the 11th grade that I was allowed into Journalism. And even then I had a Aunt that accused my teacher of sexually abusing me. It never happened. He simply took an interest that no one else took.

    I was so involved in the church though that I was only months away from preaching my initial sermon 6 years ago. I’ve always known I was gay, but since being gay isn’t really accepted in the black community; I hid who I was as best I could from those that I would fellowship with. My entire life was a secret, and I hated it. And it’s for this very reason I live honest, open, loud and proud today. Rainbows and all! 😀

    Like you, I begin to really pay attention to the messages that the church was saying about homosexuality, and since I had “studied to show myself approved”; I was very familiar with what the Word of God said and what I believed it meant. You nailed it with this line, “The theater is our faith. Religion is simply the usher that leads us to our seat. It is merely the usher which brings us into the presence of God.”

    I believe that we as people have totally gotten to the point where we have placed entirely too much trust in man and not enough in God. We have turned the Bible into a mind control tool and not the inspirational tool (2 Timothy 3:16) it was meant to be. The church has begun to use the Word as a tool to force their opinions onto others and it’s enforced by people who don’t have any love for mankind, but rather their own ulterior motives that they wish other’s to side with them on.

    We can’t begin to know what God wants for our life, because if we go by the Word it plainly says, that His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor is His ways our ways.

    My personal experiences with the church has pushed me so far out it; that I’m not sure if I’ll ever attend it again. I don’t feel I need to attend a place that continually pushes me down and make me feel worse than when I first got there. That’s not what the church is meant to be to anyone. The sin and stone thing comes to mind on this one. He that is without sin, cast the first stone. There’s a lot of stones being thrown, by people who certainly should not have picked up the stone in the first place.

    I believe that our relationship with the Creator is personal. And like you said the church is simply a place where we can experience with a group of other believers the presence of God…. Well, it’s supposed to be anyway.

    Now don’t get me wrong, It’s not that I don’t believe in the church any longer. I simply don’t buy that most people that attend now are there to serve God so much as they are to serve themselves and their egos… oh, and their wallets and pocketbooks. And I can’t speak for all churches, only the ones that I’ve personally attended.

    I certainly can go on and on with this one bud. It’s a very touchy subject for me. But one, that I have no problem explaining my viewpoint on.

    I’m very pleased that there are other’s that have formed their own views as well. Thank you for sharing yours with us.

    • Steve

      Deeone –
      Thanks for sharing more of your personal story with me here. This is exactly the reason I decided to write this post.

      I think so many people are like my other commentators–and like you. For a variety of reasons they have left the church altogether, or even left their faith.

      I’m so grateful that you have held on to your faith in the middle of it all. It is evident in your spirit and your interactions online. I can SO relate to a lot of your sentiments and the experience you described. I think we are probably much more alike than we are different in that regard.

      It is immensely sad to me that people are pushed so far from the church, that like you, they may not ever visit again.

      Thanks so much for sharing your insight, experience and for sharing it so authentically. This is exactly what I was looking for in this post.

  • Steve, great post and awesome food-for-thought. I myself have rejected organized religion, and I tend to have a personal path to the divine. (I’m “spiritual, not religious.”) I like how you describe your own path though, it’s a very great description to help people to understand. Thanks for sharing, it definitely made me think, which is a good thing.

    • Thanks so much for contributing your perspective, Lisa! I think a lot of people are in the same boat–spiritual but not religious. I hope that by sharing my experience, people will realize it doesn’t have to be all or nothing when it comes to religion. We can still honor and respect our traditions while remaining true to our faith without compromising ourselves.

  • Thanks for you post Steve, I also enjoyed its honesty. The most amazing thing about religion and in particular christianity, in two ways. Firstly the bible is obviously an amazingly honest and insightful book about our world and humanity. But the second is that christianity, gives christians an ability to be honest about ourselves. That is what is so amazing about christianity, is that it allows you to write posts like you have just done. Please don’t let the fakers like Lisa who says she is spiritual not religious, that is the new age language for i don’t really want to be honest I just want to feel good about myself.

    • Steve

      Thanks for stopping by. I agree that a person’s religion provides them the opportunity to be honest with themselves. It’s often amazing to me, though, how many of us are not honest with ourselves. Grace is an amazing thing, but must first be extended to ourselves before we can extend it to others.

      I understand your position on “new age language” but in the future, I would ask you to refrain from belittling a person’s point of view or beliefs here. I want to foster open communication and dialogue. I know that was probably not your intent, so I wanted to ask you for that favor going forward.

      I know Lisa and she is one of the most kind, enlightened people I know. She, like all of us, is seeking truth for her life and I respect that. I have no problem with where she is on her journey and am thankful for her point of view.

      Thanks again for your input and the insight you provided on my site. I appreciate it.

  • Just for the record, I’m not really into New Age beliefs 🙂

    • Steve

      *Like* I understand exactly where you are coming from, Lisa and appreciate your participation in this convo. It’s exactly the dialogue I hoped to create an opportunity for in my post. I think a lot of people are on either side of the “religion” divide and there’s often a lot of talking at one another and less talking with one another.

      • Steve, thanks 🙂 I appreciate your open-mindedness and acceptance…that is rare 😉

        • Steve

          If we each decided that there is no threat and that we can never truly be threatened, it might make open-mindedness more easy. It’s a great reminder with every opportunity to exercise non-resistance.

  • Shane

    Hey steve….great post. As a proud atheist I can see where struggling would be tough. For me, religion is just something we create in our minds. And gods have been around for centuries. I had a brief stint with it all as a kid but then I realized that I didn’t’ need any of it to be moral, ethical and have a happy life. Since that day, I feel as if I broke free and have never been happier without dogma.

    But I respect others’ decisions on this as well. I do draw the line when religion is used to against me as a gay man who wants to be treated as equal as everyone else.

    When I look around at the world, I see that most of the hatred, wars, and bigotry is usual rooted in religious beliefs and to me that is REALLY sad and really telling.

    Ex-Christian.net is a site I read a lot and it’s simply astounding how many people out there have found freedom from religion. But in my mind, it’s really a personal choice and regardless of what people need in their lives, I support and love them. Just wish it were the other way around sometimes 🙂

    Congrats on your choices and I think that’s what makes you such a wonderful human!

    • Steve

      Thanks so much, Shane! I really appreciate you sharing your experience and a little of your own perspective. This is SO much what I wanted for this post…to get wide varying points of view.

      I agree with you that religion (as it has evolved) is primarily a political structure…and that’s not always ALL bad as religions often do great good in the world, however they also have done great harm as you pointed out.

      I think by recognizing this fact and being honest with ourselves about what our religion is, what our faith is and what our spirituality is, then we don’t necessarily need to experience the angst that many people face by intertwining these…like the example I gave where a person observes bad behavior in their religious organization and has problems drawing a boundary because they’re equating this with their fundamental spirituality. That is sad to me.

      I deeply appreciate your insight and your friendship!

  • What an awesome post, Steve!! I can’t imagine how painful that church service must have been. I can’t even believe they would do that in a church. It boggles my mind.

    I remember, not long after I came out to myself, I was at the church I had been attending and I just began to realize from some of the things they said, that I was going to have to leave. Not long after that, I found a gay-friendly church and was amazed to see gay people everywhere. They were greeters and ushers, they were in the choir, they gave the offering, they helped serve communion. It was very empowering just to be there!

    But that was the beginning of my crisis of faith. Because once finding a church was out of the way, I began to reconsider some of the things I had always believed. If I was not going to take the Bible literally, and I wasn’t, then what about the miracles? What about things like salvation and resurrection. Multiple creation stories. Multiple Christmas stories. Where is Jesus actually? Is he really “in my heart?” Seated on the throne?

    Though I am still taking the Bible seriously, I don’t take it literally anymore and quite a few beliefs have shifted! It was scary to let go of them. But I never let go of God and God never let go of me!!

    So I am re-crafting my relationship with God without all the weirdness that used to get in the way. I am content to have unanswered questions. And I, too, think of myself as spiritual but not religious. Christian, but in a progressive sense.

    Thanks for sharing your own faith story!

    • Steve

      Thanks, Jeanine. It’s definitely the most transparent one I’ve ever written. It’s amazing how being forced to face one’s self can lead to a crisis in faith, isn’t it?

      Then when we begin to examine all that we’ve been taught to believe, the fears about what others think set in. Shifting one’s beliefs is really scary, especially when those who are threatened by us not remaining the same as we once were start to criticize and manipulate us back into line.

      I think you really shared a key point. It’s about being comfortable with unanswered questions. That is a wonderful place to be on the faith spectrum. So glad you’ve found peace in your faith too.

  • Hey steve, just stopped by to check out your latest blog post and wow! I appreciate your transparency and willing to get naked for the sake of inspiring others to revolutionize their lives. I often joke that I’ve been through things in my life that would cause the average person to remain sitting in a corner rocking themselves perfusely while sucking their thumb. All jokes aside I believe that my faith is the ONLY thing that kept me from going crazy! Religion and Spirituality are both about one thing….relationship. Relationship with yourself, others, and God. If we can remember to keep love paramont in all 3 we win, we prosper, we thrive!

    • Thanks so much for stopping by, Shameca! LOL. I can relate to your image of sitting in the corner sucking one’s thumb! 🙂

      I agree with you. Religion and faith are about relationship…great point…our prosperity comes when we’re rightly aligned with all three–ourselves, others, and God.