I'm Skeptical and That's OK
Why skepticism is a form of self-care and can teach us about ourselves.
Thought for the Week:
Skepticism and Trauma
I have been thinking a lot about the idea of skepticism lately.
Especially its connection to trauma we have experienced in our lives.
My thoughts began last week when I saw the “He Gets Us” Super Bowl Ads (go ahead and Google it). At the same time I was watching the Super Bowl, I was scrolling Twitter and seeing commentary on what has become known as “The Asbury Revival” (again type it into Google…make sure to find the Asbury University in Willmore, Kentucky).
To be clear at the start:
this is not a commentary on either of these events, but instead my response and how my response was received by others in the religious community.
While scrolling Twitter I noticed a tweet speaking against the skepticism that seems to involve these sorts of mainstream religious events or any mention of overt Christian ideals in a largely secular event. I often have had a high level of skepticism around both of these not because of what is happening but because of my fear that it will end in much of the same way it always has. It will be co-opted by modern-day evangelical Christians who seek to add a harmful theology that only cares about themselves.
I am very often labeled as leaning heavily toward the progressive end of Christianity and empathize with many who are currently deconstructing their faith and being persecuted by the church for doing so. However, this does not mean I go out seeking fights with people who disagree with me.
It seems we are being told, as Christians, that these are wonderful and amazing things and we should just allow the Spirit to move. However, I want to say that for many in the church, I think skepticism can be justified in situations like these because the story may feel familiar. Skepticism in fact can be a form of self-care and might even protect us from further harm.
For example (and I use this one because it is well documented):
From the moment I saw the first “He Gets Us” ad during the Super Bowl, I was skeptical, to say the least. I immediately went to their website and combed through their web presence. However, something still was sitting uneasily in my stomach. What I read on their site seemed positive, but I had this uneasy feeling that someone was trying to put lipstick on a pig. I had so many questions about this campaign/. That’s when I started looking on Google through some reputable news sources and began to see where funding for this organization and these multi-million dollar ads came from.
It was at this moment that I saw that it was fronted by evangelical, conservatively religious, and Christian Nationalist organizations who have been causing harm to the church for decades. They want to “rebrand Jesus” as if Jesus hasn’t been the same throughout the history of creation. Again, the message I saw on TV seemed positive, but it came with the caveat of uneasiness about the base and intention of the message.
So the question becomes, “Did my skepticism lead me to dig deeper into ‘He Gets Us’ because I wanted to find something wrong?”
The answer whether you agree with my intention or not is yes. However, there is an underlying reason as to why that is the case…or at least my thoughts on it, and it comes from my own trauma in the church (yes, pastors can have church-related trauma and still want to lead God’s Kin-dom into a better place).
Unfortunately, not even the leaders of the church can say that they have not experienced trauma at the hands of those who have claimed they were followers of Christ – people who embodied the very ideals of Christian love and members of the Kin-Dom. My trauma and experiences come from being let down personally and seeing others harmed either physically, spiritually, or emotionally. I have witnessed in some cases the worst that the church brings to society…and yet I work for the church (you may be wondering why).
I work for the church out of the hope for a better tomorrow. I yearn for the Kin-Dom that Jesus proclaims and a church that embodies that nature in all ways. However, we are not there and I seek to help bear the burden to move the church in that direction (as do many of my colleagues who serve alongside me in the United Methodist Church).
My skepticism is very much born out of the trauma I have witnessed in my faith and the pain I have seen and experienced even myself. As a pastor, even I have been called heretical for believing that LGBTQ+ people deserve to get married and have a right to serve in the church. I have also witnessed the pain experienced by those ostracized and outcasts from their churches. My skin color, gender, and sexuality would define me as having a place of privilege in our society, and yet my heart breaks when it sees the hurt and pain that the church especially puts human beings through all in the false name of “God’s Love.”
So, yes, I am skeptical
I am skeptical when I see an ad on TV about “The Real Jesus.” I get skeptical when hundreds of college and seminary students have a week-plus-long revival worship service dedicating their lives to Christ. I get skeptical when a “hip” non-denominational church is present in a community and try to say they are “different.”
It is because I have been down this road before. So, yes, I’m skeptical when I see these things. I think it is because skepticism is a part of trauma (or at least pain derived from experienced harm); it is a part of trusting that those around us will not cause the same harm again or perpetuate stereotypes that could cause further harm. Our trauma will not be healed unless those who have caused the harm show they won’t cause the harm again.
Trauma and Skepticism Driving Movements
Trauma led to movements like Black Lives Matter, The #MeToo Movement, and other movements of justice that sought to help heal the traumas of the past. Many of these movements were born from the skepticism, experienced by bodies of people in the United States especially.
Many of us can not blame the skepticism of people of color when they are pulled over by a police officer, cause of the generations of harm experienced at the hands of white people sworn to “protect them.” Many also find it hard to retort against the skepticism of women who run with a rape whistle, alarm, pepper spray, or finding a running buddy/community (we men haven’t given them much to trust in when they run by themselves). The yearning for justice in these areas, when noticed in their skepticism and in response to trauma, sparked these global movements for justice.
Learning from my Skepticism
In my own skepticism, I struggle with the very people who shout accusations of judgment and condemnation, or in any way try to withhold the full scope of God’s love to believe that they are honest when they try to “rebrand Jesus.” It is also hard to see people’s hearts transformed for Christ, and while seeing the hope of a great movement, it ends like other revivals with not much transformation for justice in the Kin-Dom.
We each have skepticism, especially those who have been harmed by those who were supposed to (or even promised to) protect us. Skepticism can be a form of self-care because it can warn us inside that something is triggering us. It can warn us that something doesn’t seem right, and it can even help us understand ourselves better.
Skepticism is normal, and we need to listen to it.
We also need to find ways to communicate with it, because it can help people understand the pain that has been caused in the past. The healing of trauma own space altogether and needs to be intentional lest we pass it on to future generations. However, in this post, I want to say that skepticism protects us. Never apologize for it, but place it within the context of why you are skeptical. Let it teach you about your trauma and help you to understand yourself more deeply.
Would love to hear your thoughts:
What have you learned about yourself when you have been skeptical about something?
What is your response to skepticism and its relation to your own trauma?
What’s Going on for Lent?
Lent is a time in the Christian Liturgical Calendar born from centuries of Christian practice of preparation for the celebration of Easter. During this time it would have been customary for persons of faith to engage in a time of deep, spiritual reflection, contemplating what a more holistic Christian lifestyle might look like. As we approach the death and resurrection of Christ we ourselves are reminded of the frailty of life on earth, and thereby the everlasting salvation offered by God.
In so doing Christians practice acts of discipline and often fasting. You will often hear folks give up something for Lent or sometimes, even more boldly, take something on.
This Lenten season I wanted to bring together a series of reflections on self-care so that readers may grow deeper in their relationship with self as a manner of growing deeper in their relationship with their creator. Join along for A Lenten Journey of Care, every Wednesday a new reflection will be posted by a different person from the Active Faith Community, each of whose voices you have heard on the Podcast, bringing new words as we grow together.
Check out the introductory article:
Last Week on the Run
It was a great build week on the run last week, and it’s putting me in a great place to hopefully do well at my upcoming half marathon at the Shamrock Marathon Weekend (in about a month). I absolutely crushed my workout which included 12x400 at my 5k pace. I well exceeded my expectations on it and maintained faster than what I originally thought my 5k pace to be. However, with a busy Saturday, my long run shifted to Friday, and with only one recovery day between a hard workout and a long run, I could definitely feel the fatigue in my legs when I set out for 2k repeats during my long run. These workouts during the long run help to develop the aerobic system, and can even help to build your body’s response to lactic buildup and fatigue within the longer distance races. I was tired, but I knew why. I did well, but it wasn’t a blow-you-out-of-the-water effort. It was hay that was put in the barn, ready to be extracted during my race when I need it most.
Stats for Last Week:
Week Total - 44.78 miles
Longest run - 11.18 miles (yeah I am kind of living at the 18k long run distance so that I can work on my half marathon pacing)
For the Year - 321 miles
Follow along my journey via my Strava Profile
Intention for this week: Keep Focus
Following this next week of running, I would expect I will enter a taper and begin my final preparations for the Shamrock Half Marathon. Therefore, this week will be very important in knowing my fitness and being able to read both my aerobic (with oxygen) and anaerobic (without oxygen) responses at my various training and racing paces. The key this week will be to keep focused on the goal. To focus on the workouts my coach gives, know the intentions behind them, and stick to those intentions.
Yesterday in the Pulpit
This was the final sermon in the worship series called Glimpses of the Kin-Dom, in which I explored the nature of Kin-Dom living from scripture, and our lived experience in our contemporary lives. The last sermon was from Matthew 17, a passage titled “The Transfiguration of Jesus.” It is from this passage we talk about our nature of worship as Christians, but continued on to explore what our response to worship should look like as we take this Kin-Dom experience out to the world.
Check it out on the RunninRev Preaches Newsletter or my church’s website beechgroveumc.org
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