I used to think the slippery slope was dangerous, now I think it’s the ride of a lifetime.
Growing up in the church, I heard frequent warnings from the pulpit, the youth conference stage, many of the adults in my life, about The Slippery Slope.
There was a right way to think and believe and live. And there was very definitely a wrong way. The wrong way included mostly premarital sex, drinking too much, and any support for LGBT people. There were other things in the “wrong” camp of course – universalism, praying to Mary, not reading your Bible every day, women in positions of leadership, abortion…
And the Slippery Slope was the little steps that you might take towards the wrong side. You might think they were entirely innocent, not-going-to-hurt-anybody steps, but all of a sudden you’d find your feet swept out from under you and you’d catapult into the wrong side – probably swearing all the way.
I was legitimately afraid of the slippery slope. I loved and needed this childhood faith of mine, and so the idea of losing it, of being sucked out onto the wrong side of the faith line, was truly scary. I loved Jesus, I didn’t want to lose him, didn’t want to lose his church I was a part of.
I’m also not one who can easily bury the questions. They came up slowly, I guess, but before long they would not keep quiet. I started wondering how exactly the Israelites heard God telling them to go commit genocide in the promised land – could they have misheard? I started wondering what was so wrong with a woman falling in love with another woman and committing themselves to honour, support and love each other for as long as they both shall live? I started wondering whether God might not be already speaking to and meeting with the loving and passionate Muslims and Buddhists and Jews that I met? I started swearing a bit more often…
But questions are dangerous. They take us too close to that slippery slope. And I was afraid to go there. Until I realised that I did not want a faith that was based on fear.
“We are afraid of our questions, afraid of finding new answers, afraid of a new way of thinking about or living with or relating to God. What if it changes us? What if we go the wrong way?… There are consequences for new answers and new understandings.” – Sarah Bessey
Jesus famously declared, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” And I am still wrestling with what on earth he meant by that. But if he holds out the truth to us, then no question is too scary, to risky to ask. There is nothing to be feared in bringing every doubt, every question, every thing that doesn’t seem to add up, dumping them there at his feet and saying, help me, how on earth does this fit in, I don’t understand.
I’m learning how to lean into the questions. I haven’t found answers that satisfy for many of them yet. But that’s also OK. Because the truth about the slippery slope is, it’s kind of exhilarating. The wind in your face, so many new and utterly fascinating landscapes to take in as you go, a sense of such freedom.
“And there is usually rest waiting at the bottom. There is something wondrous about flinging open the door to the thing that scares you and saying, Bring it on. Let’s hop onto this toboggan and ride all the way to the bottom; let’s see what we find.” – Sarah Bessey
I’m learning how to release the fear and enjoy the ride. It’s rarely comfortable. I’ve wept many tears over every new question and doubt, I’ve ranted angrily to family and friends, I’ve gotten in trouble for voicing half-formed opinions that I’m in the middle of processing, I’ve sometimes felt like I’m in danger of losing everything if I keep asking, keep challenging.
But I’m finding more of God here, on the ride. It’s like I can feel the Spirit sitting behind me, arms wrapped tight around me – she’ll not let me fall – and whooping as we push off down the slope. There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear (1 John 4:18).
“The Spirit is often breathing in the very changes or shifts that used to terrify us. Grace waits for us in the liminal space.” – Sarah Bessey
Reading Sarah Bessey’s new book, Out of Sorts, was like a massive tension release. Sarah telling me, through her own unique story, her own questions and faith shifts, that I’m not alone. We’re part of a long history of faith-filled people who have wrestled and questioned and doubted. The real danger is not that we’ll lose something valuable, for we can’t be lost. The Good Shepherd will come after his sheep if she ever gets too far away from his presence. There is room to explore, room to seek and to find a Kingdom that is truth and goodness and peace and love.
“Set out, pilgrim. Set out into the freedom and the wandering. Find your people. God is much bigger, wilder, more generous, and more wonderful than you imagined.” – Sarah Bessey
This is the heartbeat of my life now. Not to get everyone to think like me, because I’m not even sure what I think myself half the time. But I want to create space for the questions, create space to explore and discover, not with a foreboding sense that it might be about to implode at any moment, but with the joyous curiosity of a child.
Kaya and I set out each day on adventures in our new neighbourhood. We find parks and old cemeteries and quirky cafes and African shops spilling out fresh vegetables and fish. She embraces all of it with a beautiful fascination. She has this little frown that comes to her face every time something is strange to her. She’ll stare at people, study them. She’ll pick up sticks and leaves, chose to take a different path than I ever would have chosen. She looks back to me frequently, checking I’m still there. But she lives for this exploration, for getting out of the familiar safety of the house and discovering this brand new world.
What might it be like to live with that same sense of impatient excitement to see what new things I am going to discover today? To get out of bed every day saying, God, be bigger today, be wilder, be more wonderful. Break open another box that I’ve tried to shut you up into. Don’t ever let me get comfortable. Challenge all my preconceptions of you and your people and your world.
That’s the life, and the faith, that I want. And so I push off again, down the slippery slope.
This post is part of the synchroblog celebrating the release of Sarah Bessey’s new book, Out of Sorts. We were invited to write a post filling in the blanks, “I used to think _, now I think _.”
I received an advanced copy of Out of Sorts, which released in N.America on Tuesday and is already (whoop! we’re never first!) out in the UK (kindle edition here). She writes that “this is a book about making peace with the unanswered questions and being content to live into the answers as they come. It’s about being comfortable with where we land for now, while holding our hands open for where the Spirit leads us next.”
And it’s wonderful.
I underlined so much of this book. She writes her own story of the faith shifts, the doubts, the questions, and her crazy love for Jesus that lasted through it all. This is a book for anyone who feel alone in their wrestling, for those who are scared to start voicing the questions in their heart, for those who are embracing the free fall.