Stages of Faith – Part Two – Faith Shift

Part One, Part Three

Faith Shift Overview

I finished reading Faith Shift by Kathy Escobar and have been struggling about how to present the book and the material.

Kathy Escobar was a dedicated Evangelical Christian that had a desire to serve in a greater capacity than her church allowed for women. She eventually received a counseling degree and involved herself in a large, nondenominational church. She soon realized that what was going on behind the scenes was nothing like the façade presented to the congregation; it was all for show.

The transitions out of her two church organizations was a painful process for her, which caused a confusing shift in her faith. Kathy draws on her personal experience and those of many others whom she has counselled who have encountered similarly painful, frustrating, and abusive relationships with their faith communities.

The stages of faith in Kathy’s book are:

  • Fusing (Active participation in a church.)
  • Shifting (Unsettled or dissonant period)
  • Returning (to Fusing stage)
  • Unraveling (Losing ones previous certainty.)
  • Severing (Cutting ties with those things and people that hurt you.)
  • Rebuilding (Developing a new spiritual relationship with God.)

Kathy’s seems to have a strong bias against churches with strict codes of conduct and orthodoxy. Even in her chapter on Returning, the option to stay in ones faith with a renewed perspective is downplayed. Leaving one’s church is considered courageous, while remaining is disingenuous.

Granted, in cases of abuse and oppression, I would agree. But, for those who realize that the simple stories of the past don’t work anymore, Rebuilding with a new foundation and Returning is a very viable option. This is not covered in the book. More about this later.

Preamble

For the sake of this discussion, I will limit my comments to a faith shift resulting from cognitive and emotional experience. While the stages may be similar for those who experience serious abuse, I cannot speak to that path, especially since the end point of rebuilding may be much different.

You’re Not Alone

A faith transition can be a lonely and scary experience, your credibility, the credibility of those around, and your sanity is at risk, even the foundation for your whole life may become uncertain.

There is power in knowing that you are not alone and your experience is not unique, at least in a general sense.

See if any of these statements describe you:

 

I haven’t picked up my Bible in a long time and don’t have any desire to.

I don’t even know how to articulate where I am spiritually these days.

I have experienced a significant shift in my theology or faith perspective and find myself feeling disoriented and unsure.

I find myself swearing more than I ever have in my life.

I’m afraid I’m on a spiritual slippery slope and have no idea if I’ll survive the landing.

I sometimes wonder if God exists at all.

I stopped going to church altogether because I couldn’t take it anymore. (pg 4)

Part of the problem with understanding what is happening within ourselves is the expectation that our faith is built on a sure foundation. If “truth” is unchanging, our personal faith should be unchanging too, right?

Well, if we believe that our life is a place for us to learn and grow, we must expect change-and even periods of dramatic change-as new knowledge and understanding displaces old knowledge. We also have to expect that this can occur at a foundational level, not just with peripheral details.

Growth and change are natural parts of our relationship with God. God invites us to be in motion, but often the faith systems we are part of don’t. Our changes can feel threatening to those who are used to our believing and behaving in a particular way.

For an LDS member that believes in a “true and living church” (D&C 1:30), I would restate Kathy’s position: God invites us [and our church] to be in motion, but often the [church and congregation] we are a part of don’t [synchronize].

While the time scale for institutional change may not be helpful for individuals, the fact that change is inevitable adds brightness to the light at the end of the tunnel.

A faith shift…can actually be a doorway into something more… something bigger and truer. (pg 6-7)

Stripping the Baggage

Kath quotes from an email of “Daily Meditations” from Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest.

All great spirituality teaches about letting go of what you don’t need and who you are not. … Then, when you can get little enough, naked enough, and poor enough, you’ll find that the little place where you really are is ironically more than enough and is all that you need. At that place, you will have nothing to prove to anybody and nothing to protect from other people.

That place is called…freedom. It’s the freedom of the children of God. (pg 21)

We recently moved from a large home to a condo. It was (and continues to be) a painful process. EVERYTHING had to be evaluated as essential or not.

During the turmoil of Shifting, Unravelling, and Severing (Stage 4 and the wall), it might be helpful to recognize what you are shedding. Or rather, it might be helpful to consciously evaluate what you are shedding. Keep the precious essentials and discard the unsubstantiated, even if it might be considered “doctrinal” to other members, sometimes it just isn’t.

The End Game

If we think, Once I get through this, I’ll get my old passion back, we will be sorely disappointed. The old is definitely gone, new is coming, but we don’t yet know what it looks like. This is a tough point to embrace–that our faith experience as we knew it will never be the same. The past is indeed gone and a new future is before us. The good news? Over time our faith can become much stronger and freer than we ever even hoped. (pg 78)

My faith transition from Fusing (Stage 3) through Shifting (Stage 4) is now, after about 10 years, in a rebuilding stage. There is a lot that is less certain in my life, but some things that are much more clear and free.

Warning

The fact that you are reading this blog, means that you are likely in the midst of a faith shift. Those who have not been down this road cannot relate to your feelings and may think you are drifting from your faith. Kathy echoes one of the observations I made in part one of this series.

When we try to make people see what we now see, we can get into trouble. Hopefully we have some people we can trust with these feelings, but we enter the danger zone when we try to explain ourselves to people who can’t relate. (pg 84)

So, when you encounter negative reactions when confiding in someone, recognize that this is normal.

Like Kathy Escobar, I hope that you can find someone to talk to during your journey.

Eugene

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