I’m so over doubt. As a theological category, I find it as interesting as boiled wool. These days I’m more compelled by the faithful few who risk looking foolish in their beliefs, who are—in a word—earnest.
It’s true that I’ve been called a hipster. An ubiquitous archetype of my generation, the hipster is known for her lack of interest in all things conventional. Instead, her taste is unflinchingly ironic. I’m guilty of waxing wistfully about leggings and crew neck sweatshirts. Or wearing over-sized glasses that reference my Aunt Colleen living in Minneapolis in the 80’s. I like my hotels to be cheap but modern—like chic hostels—and my restaurants to serve upscale versions of corn dogs and cotton candy. The only thing that distinguishes hipsters like me from being dorks is that we know we are dorks. And we don’t care. Or at least we pretend not to.
With all the throw-backs to our youth, so prevalent today in movies, music, and fashion, you would think we would be better at recapturing some of the carelessness of days spent playing baseball in the cul-de-sac with a tennis ball and plastic bat. Jellies substituting for tennis shoes. Perms masquerading as human hair. But we care. We care too much.
I care that at 28 I’m taken seriously as a professional. I care that my life is enviable to my friends. I care that my Christianity comes across as informed, but nevertheless a bit irreverent. God forbid someone think I’m a fundamentalist. God forbid someone think I had blind faith. And perhaps most frightening of all, God forbid someone think I endorsed the church with its history of crimes of abuse and boredom.
It’s not that I don’t think doubt has its place in the church. In the last year, I’ve come across a handful of books exploring the freedom it has brought to writers’ acceptance of self and expression of God. Sarah Sentilles’s Breaking Up With God. Jason Boyett’s O Me of Little Faith. Rachel Held Evans’s Evolving in Monkeytown. It’s just that, as a Catholic, it was always pretty obvious to me that the church didn’t have its head screwed on tight. Even as a seven-year old, the argument that Mary had to be perfect if she birthed a sinless savior appeared to be a catch-22. (What about her mother? And her mother’s mother? Wouldn’t that make Adam and Eve perfect in the end?)
The things is, I never doubted God for the church’s mistakes. If I couldn’t take communion in kindergarten like I wanted to, it was the church’s ageism, not God’s. If I had to confess to a priest before being confirmed (Father, forgive me for digging my nails into my brother’s neck), it was the church’s legalism, not God’s. And if I couldn’t be ordained a priest because I was a woman, well, sexism wasn’t a divine quality in my imagination. The idea of a good God, however confusing s/he might be, stuck from the moment it fell on my ears.
With all the statistics about my generation’s mistrust of institutionalized religion, I am feeling a little depressed. Where will my peers be when I show up for worship—intentionally awkward looking in pleated pants—and need to see myself in the crowd? Where will they be when I want to sing along to the Christian rock anthem “Our God is an Awesome God” with my arms unabashedly outstretched? Where will they be when I’m too shy to stick around for Sunday brunch and need a gentle invitation to community?
Sometimes I think I’m drawn to earnestness of late for the same reason hipsters are drawn to fanny packs. It’s so uncool it’s cool. But while I’m not ready to give up my mullet-like hair quite yet, I am ready to give up caring that I’ll look like I care. About God. About Christianity. About the Church.
Because I do. I really, really do. In all earnestness.
7 thoughts on “A Throwback to Earnestness by Erin Lane”
Where are they? They are worshipping in the woods with us
Where are they? Out in the streets yet again, trying to defeat patriarchy, in the art galleries and lofts of urban spaces, fighting for eco-feminism, fighting homophobia and heteronormative suffocation.
But being an ernest person with beliefs is noble in and of itself Erin. So what if few peers follow you. As Mary Daly once famously said, “Even if I was the only radical feminist on earth, I would still be one.” Community can be an illusion, and churches are still about the male telling stories about his wife, his girlfriend… or using sports metaphors in church, but it has nothing to do with the powerful voices of …ahem… real women with passionate beliefs.
I enjoyed your post, but I wondered who “God” is for you, so I looked up the song, you mentioned.
When He rolls up His sleeves
He ain’t just puttin’ on the ritz
(our God is an awesome God)
There is thunder in His footsteps
And lightning in His fist
(our God is an awesome God)
Well, the Lord wasn’t joking
When He kicked ’em out of Eden
It wasn’t for no reason that He shed his blood
His return is very close and so you better be believing
that our God is an awesome God
Was I ever surprised to see it was about a God whose power is power over and who is unabashedly “He.” I have my “doubts” that this is “God.” For me God’s power is power-with not ever power-over. One of the reasons feminists are not in church with you could be that the image of God in songs like this reinforces patriarchal dominantion, and that is one of the forms of domination we are trying to heal from and transform. The image of God’s “fist” (which I don’t think is Biblical, though other violent images are) will be particularly offensive to women who are victims of domestic violence. And the line that says “Judgment and wrath he poured out on Sodom” justifies violence against gays and lesbians.
Thank you for your post! I think you make some important points here – I think many share your struggle with feeling that identifying as Christian is not “popular.” And many think that if you are feminist, you cannot be Christian. This is a difficult struggle and one that is problematic. As feminists we must support each other’s choices rather than criticizing one another’s religious beliefs.
I do think the song you mentioned is problematic from a feminist perspective for the reasons that Carol states. I wonder what it is about that song that you find appealing – or supportive to your feminist ideals? Is it the title that you think allows you to express your faith in an “awesome God” or do the lyrics relate to your ideals as well?
Thanks for sharing, Erin! Looking forward to your thoughts. :)
I had no idea the song I mentioned was so, well, theologically intimidating. It was one of the first songs I remember being important to me as a youth when I had stopped attending the Catholic church and began attending more evangelical ones with my mother (and against a court order from my father). It signified that I was stepping out of the religion I had been handed and in some ways trying to make it my own. I simply remember the refrain: our God is an awesome God, he reigns from heaven above, with wisdom, power, and love. And that refrain has always stuck with me. It was a representation of my earliest beliefs and one that I don’t want to classify as naive or backward now that I have a feminist consciousness.
Thanks for the important comments here!
Erin, no worries, it’s just a song of childhood, and the excitement of a new adventure outside the church you were born into. I love guitars, and guitar church songs, because when I was a kid, it was a very big change from organs in church. It was only after i started living abroad and learning a completely new language that I started to see the male centerness of the English language.
And sometimes I just have fun with it all…. from Messiah, “And to us a son is given…for us a child is born…” I changed the words to “And unto us a dog is given…” I love dogs, I see no reason that I can’t think of a dog coming down to represent god, and I think Handel should be comic now and then.
Highly recommend this. “Hercules hero of song and story, Hercules winner of ancient glory… fighting for the right, with the strength of ten ordinary men…” Loved that little 60s cartoon song from “The Mighty Hercules” childrens’ cartoon. Hey, I used to think I was Hercules, with the strength of ten ordinary men….” Sing on!
Playful memories of patriarchal songs…. could be a new blog post a-coming….