Last weekend my wife, daughter and I were driving in from out of town for my mother’s birthday. It was a good celebration. We caught up with family, which was nice. Olive (my daughter) got to meet her new baby cousin. As I was driving, a song came on the radio that I’ve heard millions of times. It’s an old country song. Maybe you’ve heard it.
Here it is, so you can give it a listen:
Growing up in a small town I heard this song every once in a while. My dad is also an aficionado of many genres of music and I remember this playing on the radio in his old truck when I was a kid.
Did you catch the chorus? Don Williams crooning,
“I believe in love. I believe in babies. I believe in mom and dad. And I believe in you”.
It gives me chill bumps.
Listening to it on the ride back home brought back a flood of memories. My wife and daughter were asleep and the chorus hit me like a ton of bricks, an anvil and a flying elephant. DON WILLIAMS, YOU ARE SPITTIN’ STRAIGHT TRUTH, MY MAN! I felt my heart saying. On the other hand I was left with a question:
What do I believe, really? AND Why do I believe it?
I grew up in the church. By the time I was four years old I had all the books of the bible memorized. By the time I was 12, I had read the bible from cover to cover (yes, even Leviticus and Numbers). I was deemed a good boy and “officially saved” in the eyes of the church when I was 17. I showed up on Sundays. I followed the rules. I lead prayers. I preached a sermon here and there. I lead worship. I had my sh*t together. But something was brewing deep within me. A hunger with teeth and bonfire flames.
A couple years after I got saved, I started reading the bible. No, like really R-E-A-D-I-N-G it. In a two year time period I read the book from cover to cover nine times. Along with my reading I was researching biblical history, studying psycholanalysis in literature, archtypes, world mythologies, etc…etc…in a word, I wanted the truth. The down and dirty truth. I thought intense study and building up intellectual strength was the gateway.
I found things that made me uncomfortable. Things that made me squirm. Things that made my skin crawl. When I asked questions of my church leaders at the time, I was told not to ask too many questions. I was told what I was studying was dangerous. I had a rebellious spirit. After that experience and some less-than-ideal circumstances going on in my life at the time, I arrived at the inevitable conclusion: I. Did. Not. Believe. In. Jesus.
I didn’t even think he was real. I thought it was all a bunch of fairy tales compiled in a book by a secret society so it could be used as a tool for mass hypnosis. And I was convinced my cynicism had nothing to do with it. I was ok with it. What I needed at the time was a group of people who would be okay with my search for truth too.
I had a radical and unexplainable encounter. Followed by months of unexplainable encounters. It was as if everything in my subconscious had been pulled out and was floating in front of me everyday. It was frightening. It was liberating. I became a believer once again.
Things happened. I began speaking. Leading worship. Writing for people. I traveled around the country preaching the gospel. It was all about who God was and what God is and blah blah blah, I got burned out. Who made me an expert on this stuff anyway, huh? So I quit. I gave up. I was much too pleased with myself as ‘the man of God.’
My daughter was born.
I didn’t know what I knew anymore and that was okay. I just knew I was tired of Jesus in a box. Jesus on a hat. Jesus on a bumper sticker. Jesus as a marketing scheme. Jesus as a clique of separatists. Jesus as a punisher. Jesus as something far away and unattainable. Jesus as a formula. Jesus as a moral code. Jesus who starts wars, bombs abortion clinics and hates those who believe differently.
That’s when I decided I didn’t believe in Jesus.
I didn’t believe in Jesus the way he’s presented. I didn’t believe in Jesus the way people told me he’s supposed to be. I didn’t believe in the Jesus of doctrine and law. I didn’t believe in the Jesus of manipulation and control.
To bring it back to the Don Williams song, if I had to give a statement of belief that’s about as close as I could get.
I believe in love.
(I think that there’s something written somewhere stating ‘God is Love?) I believe in babies. I believe in mom and dad. And I believe in you.
Driving home last weekend, I think the Don Williams song hit me so hard because of how liberating a message it carries. Beyond what we think we know and believe there is something so much bigger. I see it in my daughter. I see it in my wife. I see it in the sunrise. I see it when people take risks, fail, succeed, struggle and make it despite the odds. I see it in laughter. I see it in you right now.
Nowadays I get asked this question a lot: “Dude, are you even a Christian?” Do I believe in Jesus? To be honest, I don’t know. And I’m okay with that.