The Ruins of a Faith Built on Ideas*

I close my eyes and see my feet on stone, the landscape around me rocky, colorless, empty. Where is my love for You, Lord? I catch a glimpse. So thin, so fragile, this gold-leaf love. Floating away on a zephyr created by my own reaching hands. I cannot grasp it. Cannot feel it. This precious, flimsy love. I’m so hollow, I have become a question.

With eyes still closed, I explore this vision. Words of revelation come to me:

I am standing in the ruins of a faith built on ideas.

A faith built not on God, but on ideas of God.

I thought I knew Him, this God of Jacob. I was not a foolish girl. I had heard He was a God who could not be bought, a lion who would not be tamed. But I didn’t know Him until He dragged me into the wilderness and refused to answer when I called.

He tore down mountain after mountain, rearranging hills and valleys until the landscape was unrecognizable. Both my physical family, after the loss of my brother, and my spiritual family, after a challenging season, were shattered. And the greatest sting was not experiencing God’s absence. The greatest sting was knowing that the all-powerful God of the universe was right there, witnessing everything, and doing nothing to stop it.

I think I understand the disciples better now. How they might have felt as they watched Jesus submit to death on a cross. As they pried His bloody hands from the nails and carried His lifeless body to the tomb. As they laid him there and said good-bye, turned their backs and walked away. And He, their Messiah, their conquering King, Israel’s Salvation and Deliverer, did absolutely nothing to stop it. (Matthew 27:57-60)

They thought they knew Him, this son of David. Thought they’d built their faith on Him. But they’d built their faith on ideas of Him instead.

We, too, can build our faith on ideas of God. Like the disciples, we can fashion scripture into formulas and platitudes that fit our own understanding, if that helps us sleep better at night. Like the disciples, we can lean on teaching that reduces our walk to a step-by-step method for successful living, if that helps us feel more in control.

Or we can persevere like David, wide-eyed, wide-hearted, refusing anything but the true, untamed heart of God. We can hold on fiercely to God like Jacob, wrestling with Him in the midst of our trials, until we get to the good stuff…the real stuff…blessings that change us, alter our journey, even if that means we walk with a limp. We can reject platitudes and shallow teaching like Job, and brave the whirlwind of God’s mighty presence, that we might also say, “

I admit I once lived by rumors of you; now I have it all firsthand – from my own eyes and ears!” (Job 42:5 MSG)

I stand in the ruins of a faith built on ideas. But beneath my feet lies the Foundation that will not be shaken, the Promise that will not be removed.

Like the disciples, I carved myself a God of my own design. But now, as the dust settles and rumbling quiets, I see Him and I hear Him saying “Afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will rebuild you.” (Isaiah 54:11)

I am so empty I have become a question. But like the vacant tomb, I am a question of freedom and of hope. A witness to the Truth. And I, like Mary Magdalene battle-worn and broken, run crying in the streets, “I have seen the Lord.” (John 20:16-18)

© Nichole Q Perreault

*The above post was written for Wintonbury Church as part of the Stations of the Cross 2019 booklet.
**Digital photographs of original charcoal drawings by Kate Tortland. These two drawings are part of her 14-piece Stations of the Cross collection which depicts Jesus’ journey from the Garden of Gethsemane to His resurrection. The collection is on display each year for Good Friday at Wintonbury Church; and an accompanying booklet with photos of the artwork, scripture, and meditations written by church members is provided for guests.

You Are Enough (God Says So)

I’ve seen this quote popping up in my feed a lot lately and I’m not feeling it.

A few years ago, I probably would have adored this quote. But now….not so much.

Here’s why: Much about the way this is worded implies that “she” (a symbolic “she” with which all Christian women are invited to identify) “she” is not lovable, is not worthy of forgiveness, and is not good enough to be a child of God. And people…especially women…often accept that as truth.

There was a time when I would have agreed with this quote and not without good reason. God created us, loves us, and forgives us because of who He is. There is nothing we can do to secure our right to exist, earn His love, or deserve His forgiveness. We are a people who found ourselves separated from God by our sin and without any means to close that distance between us, except for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Everything we are and have is because of Him. That is true.

Along the way, however, that truth often becomes twisted:
‘I can’t earn God’s love’  becomes  ‘I’m unlovable.’
‘I am a sinner saved by grace’  turns into  ‘I’m not good enough.’
‘I can’t earn love or forgiveness’  becomes  ‘I am not worthy of love or forgiveness.’

See how that works? Take the truth, twist it just a little, and you’ve got yourself a powerful lie. Typical, and oh so very destructive. That’s how the enemy rolls.

Over the last several months, God’s been speaking to me a lot on this subject. Here’s what I believe He has to say:
You are enough.
You are good.
You are worthy.
You belong here.

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Before We Speak

This started out as one thing and became another. I anticipate follow up posts but I never really know what God has planned for my writing. 

I have spent the last several decades as part of America’s evangelical Christian subculture. It’s nice here. The people are nice. The message is nice. The coffee is nice. We keep it neat and tidy – from the clothes we deem acceptable, to the music we say we listen to, to the shows we admit we watch, to the language we use to whitewash our sin. Stop by and if you don’t look too closely you’ll see that everything is really, really nice.

It’s like nice is our unspoken brand. We mean well. We think if we make everything nice we’ll be able to convince everyone that Jesus is nice and if we convince everyone that Jesus is nice, then maybe they’ll choose to follow Jesus. And we really, truly do want everyone to know Jesus like we know Jesus.

But Jesus was more than nice. Jesus was Real. Jesus was kind and compassionate and brave but he was also sad and angry and afraid. He was quiet and he was loud. He fasted and he feasted. He laughed and he wept. He was the Prince of Peace and he flipped tables.

People, can we please start being more than just “nice”? Can we be Real, too?

I know a lot of you are going to say YES! but have you considered what it means to be really Real? I don’t just mean honest about our feelings Real. I mean:

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The Truth About Parenting Children into Adulthood (reluctantly posted by a blogger who doesn’t blog about parenting)

I almost never blog about parenting.

Why not?

Mostly because I have no idea what I’m doing. Parenting is an experiment. Every time. One in which the test subjects, conditions, and variables are always changing. The moment I think I’ve done something right is usually the moment just before the moment I find out whatever I thought I did right was actually so wrong it will require years of therapy to undo the damage. Why would I document that online?

Funny thing: while people often congratulate me for raising two great young women, they rarely ask me for parenting advice. That ought to tell you something. Sure, their mouths say “Wow, you must have done something right,” but what’s really going through their minds is “How did this woman get so lucky?” And I’m thinking, I know, right?! 

Second, I don’t blog about parenting because I like my kids, and more importantly, I want them to like me (or at least still visit me on holidays). Sharing their trials and tribulations with the world on a public blog doesn’t seem like the best way to engender familial affection.

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Yes, God Will Let You Down

The song starts off well-enough:

…let the King of my heart
Be the wind inside my sails
The anchor in the waves
Oh He is my song”

Photo by Hugo Kerr on Unsplash

The achingly beautiful melody sucks me in and I sing along. Until the chorus hits me. Like a brick.

“You’re never gonna let
Never gonna let me down”

Wait. What?

“You’re never gonna let
Never gonna let me down”

Excuse me…um…can we talk about this for a minute?

One night, while enduring said chorus from a church lobby, a young woman said to me, “What about all those people in there who feel like God has let them down?” I responded with something equivalent to, “Preach it, sister.”

Then, because it was, after all, a worship song, we had to suffer through about 5,763 more rounds of the chorus….which was long enough for me to compose most of this blog post in my head.

It starts off like this: The song is crap.

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Repentance

There is more to say than sorry
More to do than turn around
There is you and me
Face to face
Where the light leaves shadows
Across our cheekbones
A deceptive mirror
My right eye in the darkness
Your left
We see
We see so differently
Blinded both by darkness
And by light
We stumble
We stumble all the same
Oh there is more to say than sorry
More to do than turn around

Grief at the Sidewalk’s End

I wrote the following poem as part of a poetry group assignment. It was my first time attending and I was quite nervous, but everyone was lovely (and talented!). The prompt was titled “Borrowed” and we were to use a line from another poem as part of our poem. I must admit, when I started with Shel Silverstein’s ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends’, I did not expect to go in this direction – it’s a bit dark for Shel Silverstein hahahaha. But isn’t that the point of the sidewalk’s end? Anything can happen. Oh wait…that’s another Silverstein poem…

Grief at the Sidewalk’s End
A poem beginning with a line from Shel Silverstein’s ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends’

There is a place where the sidewalk ends
A darkened river wends
  Undaunted

There is a look as he turns his head
Squints toward truth, but we pretend
  Fainthearted

There is a dread and its claws ascend
Gut, chest, throat, soul-flesh rends
  Departed

There is a time when the sunlight bends
Her warm, blood-red amends
  Unwanted

There is a hand where his hand had been
Too slight to comprehend
  Truth haunts me

There is a pit where my dreams descend
Hope, joy, and light offend
  The darkness

There is Peace to my soul, attends
Understanding transcends
  The Cross bones

I’ve stood at the place where the sidewalk ends
Where breath suspends

© Nichole Q. Perreault

 

Unexpected Gifts

Sometimes, I read old blog entries and I’m like, “Wow, did I really write that?” It’s weird to hear a message from your five-years-ago-self. Super weird. But this came up in my Facebook memories today. And, I say this with as much surprise as you might: it’s good. Like really good. Hahahahaha. Merry Christmas my friends!

Lightning Bug

Photo by claritaPhoto by clarita

Do you remember that Christmas present you always wanted but never got? I found mine while reverently flipping through the Sears Wish Book, eyes wide, excitement bubbling through my veins. I circled the picture over and over, practically cutting a hole through the paper with the tip of my pen. Then, when I showed my parents, they promptly informed me that a Barbie Dream House was not in the budget nor would it fit in our two bedroom apartment. Even after a letter to Santa and some earnest prayers, come Christmas day, among all the presents under the tree, there was no Barbie Dream House. So goes life. Sometimes, we ask for one thing and get another.

Most of the time, such disappointments are small and quickly forgotten. But at other times, they hurt. Imagine the child who wants a set of paints or a guitar but…

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Part 2: I Hate God | An Ugly Truth

Photo by Unsplash | Public Domain CC0Photo by Unsplash | Public Domain CC0

I figured that some day I would write a follow-up to I Hate God | An Ugly Truth – you know, something to resolve the tension, whenever God revealed it to me. But, well, I’m beginning to think I may need more than one follow-up. Maybe a Part II and a Part III? So for now, here’s Part II:

Have you ever hated someone you love? Been so angry with them that you seethe with rage? No? Are you sure?

What about your spouse after a terrible fight? A boyfriend or girlfriend? A friend? No?

Well, what about your parents? Surely, there’s a time in your life that you can remember hating your parents. When you stormed into your bedroom, slammed the door, threw yourself face down onto your bed and screamed into the pillow, “I hate them! I hate them! I hate them!”

That’s what’s happening with God and me. I’m angry – albeit rip-roaring angry – like a child toward her parents.

It’s not that I don’t love Him. Though what is my love compared to His? Like a child, my love is a selfish love.

I love Him simply because He first loved me. First – as in once upon a time I was just an idea in His mind, a thought, a dream. I love Him because He is my Creator, because I need Him, because without Him I am nothing.

He is the artist that sketches and sculpts me. The One who’s coloring me in. I love. And I love Him. But it’s a pale, thin love. Like gold leaf, precious but weak.

So when I say I hate God, it’s not because I don’t love Him. And I don’t think it’s heresy either. It’s not false to confess that I hate God for what He’s allowed. It’s just the truth about my feelings. If anything, it’s an indictment against me, not God. An indictment against my frail, transparent, brittle love.

I take comfort in remembering that God is bigger – so much bigger – than my hatred. His love conquered the rebellion of the world on the cross. Surely, He can conquer me.

And that’s really what my hatred is about. It’s a war between the Lord and me. It’s the remnant of the most epic battle of all time: the battle between the Creator of the Universe and anything and anyone that opposes Him, the battle between good and evil. And every day, that battle rages in the universe, the world, between nations, between people, in my heart, my soul and in every single cell and atom of my body.

We are on the battlefield. And we are the battlefield.

My hatred for God may make you uncomfortable. Heck, it makes me uncomfortable. But war wounds a person. And some wounds fester. This place I’m in – of admitting to you and to me and to God that I hate Him – it’s the best thing I’ve done in years. Because I have finally opened a deadly, poisonous wound. Actually, I should say that I have finally let God open that wound, because He is the one who revealed the hatred. He is the one who exposed the condition of my heart. He’s known all along. I needed Him to show me.

And when I finally gave in to the fear and the denial and the rage, when I finally wailed and railed and beat my fists against His chest, He stood there. Steady. Unchanging. Unmovable. My hatred can’t move the unmovable Rock. My emotions, no matter how overwhelming, can’t shake the unshakable God.

Because He is Real. He is Reality itself.

And His love is Real. It isn’t pale or thin or fragile. His love, like Him, is solid, unshakable, unmovable.

If I want to enter into the Real, into the Reality that is His love, then I need to go through the painful process of letting God make me real. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, I’ve found myself worn and tattered and ugly and lacking. But I am becoming real. And someday, my love, like His, will be real too.

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you. Isaiah 54:10

Read Part 3: I Hate God | An Ugly Truth

I Hate God | An Ugly Truth

This is the first in a three part series.

I hate God.

I would be terrified to type that out, except for one thing: He already knows.

I’m the one who’s just finding out. Or am I just finally able to admit the truth?

I hate Him. I hate Him. I hate Him.

Sure, part of me feels sorry…or at least wishes it wasn’t true. But it is true. I am overwhelmed with hatred toward an Almighty God. Gently, I remind myself that feelings are just feelings. You can’t reason your way out of them. They just are.

Feelings aren’t the problem, but rather the symptom of a greater problem. And feelings aren’t sins either. It’s what we do with our feelings that matters.

And I’m blogging mine. I guess I’ll let God be the judge of that.

I can only imagine what my believing friends are feeling right now: horror, indignation, worry for my soul.

The rest of you? I don’t know. Maybe you’re thinking “Yes. Finally. This girl’s got a clue!” Or maybe your just confused – wondering how a Christian can talk this way.

But I’m simply sharing the rhythm already beating through my heart:
I hate Him.
I hate Him.
I hate Him.

I hate Him for all the pain. For making me so achingly sensitive and then tossing me into the raging waters of life to flail and wail and splash and thrash to survive.

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