Buildings and bridges
are made to bend in the wind
to withstand the world,
that’s what it takes
All that steel and stone
is no match for the air, my friend
what doesn’t bend breaks
what doesn’t bend breaks
– Ani de Franco
What doesn’t bend breaks. As I contemplated how to tell this story, these lines kept going through my head. I grew up Southern Baptist, with what you could say was a very rigid world view, a very inflexible faith. Our faith was founded on a sense of certainty with very finite definitions and understandings of God, faith, and scripture. There was no room for error and certainly no room for free thought.
From time to time our church would receive tracts and lesson plans from the powers that be down south explaining in very simple terms — often with pictures or diagrams – various aspects of how we were to believe. The kids learned these lessons in Sunday school, the adults discussed them in limited ways in Bible studies groups, and even the pastors seemed tied to them. To this day I’m still not sure who actually did the Biblical interpreting for us – it was almost like some unseen priesthood was making all the decisions about what we were to believe, and this was passed from the top down.
And no one ever questioned. In fact, we were actually taught not to. Questioning beliefs was questioning authority, and questioning authority was tantamount to questioning God, and one does not question God.
Along with this rigid framework came a sense of mistrust of outsiders and outside ideas – including those of other supposedly-Christian denominations. Of course most other fundamantalist denominations were probably ok; those who were charismatic or liturgical, possibly less so; and of course once you got to Catholic, well they weren’t really Christians at all, you know – at least that’s what I was taught.
But I remember that faith carrying with it a palpable sense of fear anytime it was challenged, and that fear was this: what if they’re right? In such a rigid faith structure there’s no room for truth, or at least truths that you hadn’t already considered. Because if you could be mistaken about one tenant of your faith, then that means you might also be wrong about hundreds or thousands of other things, and that was a terrifying thought. What doesn’t bend breaks.
Do you want to know what ultimately undermined the faith of my childhood and brought it tumbling to the ground? Or at least what started that chain reaction? A bible class at a Christian college – History of the Old Testament at George Fox University to be specific.
Small, simple, earth-shattering truths. Like the fact that Moses probably didn’t really write the first five books of the Bible; that that was probably just a tradition. Or that a group of flawed human beings actually decided which scriptures got to be in the Bible and which would be excluded, and that this happened hundreds of years after the last book was written.
My inflexible faith was not equipped to deal with such information, and I had to make a choice: accept these new truths and watch my faith of certainty slowly start to crumble, or put my hands over my ears and reject them to protect the faith of my childhood.
As we Friends know, many people choose the latter, but for me it was too late. To me these new truths did in fact seem a little too true. So I let them in, and over the next few years, piece by piece, I watched the faith of my childhood crumble. Until it was gone.
I’ve since started re-building my faith from the ground up, this time out of more flexible stuff. Like listening. Seeking together as a community. Trusting the inward light. And you know what? I no longer feel that I have to protect my faith. That fear is gone.
— Adam Sweeney