I've known Mat for 15 years now. In May, we will celebrate 10 years of marriage, of deep, mushy, serious, goofy love. Marriage is work, but it's been the most enjoyable work either of us has ever done. Without hesitation, I'd do it all over again from the beginning to now without changing a single thing.
Like any couple committed to lifelong partnership, we have our ups and downs. Ministry was a major piece of our life together and leaving the church has been a difficult path for both of us. I say it's easier for me because I've done it before. I left the church when I was 18 and stayed gone for seven years. This road is familiar to me, the concerns and assumptions from those on the outside looking in comes as no surprise. I take it with a grain of salt. But for Mat, this is new. Church attendance was always his expression of his relationship with God, his measurement for his faith and dedication to a Christian way of life. Without it, I've watched him wrestle with everything he's ever believed in, not because he doesn't believe anymore, but because he desperately wants to believe in the sacredness of church and tradition.
When you've seen behind the curtain of ministry life, it's hard to remember that church is a place to be with God and not a place to do work.
Mat and I used to think we were supposed to believe the same things and operate within the space of those beliefs in varying but specific ways to have a healthy marriage. Now we know we have so much more to offer one another when our spirituality is allowed to remain individual.
Responses by Mat von Ehrenkrook
What do you believe, and why?
To outline everything I believe would be a very long list and ain't nobody got time for that. So, not to dodge the question completely, the one lesson life keeps teaching me and reminding me - and is reinforced by the wonderful blog posts so eloquently curated by Liz here - is that it’s more about the journey and not the destination.
I used to think beliefs were truths we held. This definition falls flat for me because truth has become subjective. We believe what we choose to believe because if we view our beliefs through a lens of universal truths, people who do not believe as we do shake the very foundation of what is true to us and we are forced to decide who is right and wrong.
Over the years I’ve come to understand that beliefs are more like opinions, not convictions deeply rooted in unmovable truths. I believe McDonald's Chicken McNuggets are absolutely delicious and you can counter my belief by believing they are terrible - and both can be true at the same time! When we view beliefs like this, it celebrates our differences and beckons curiosity and social exploration instead of causing us to draw lines in the sand and defend our ground.
This is my working definition of belief: an opinion or conviction that effects our actions and emotions. This definition makes our beliefs more approachable and makes the idea of changing our beliefs a much more plausible behavior to engage with.
More specifically, I believe in the teachings of Jesus and I believe in the Bible. (And I have some very specific beliefs about salvation.) But everything I believe comes from two key ingredients: reason and experience. I can’t experience the creation of the earth, but reason leads me to believe that time as a construct had to have a beginning. This leads me to reason that something more powerful than time created it. Death is the end of existence so life must be the counter to that, so it’s reasonable to believe that the one who called himself the way and truth and life could have the power to overcome death. We know from sources other than the Bible that Jesus was a real person who walked this earth, and so I lean towards believing the Bible. These facts coupled with the experiences I have when testing the teachings of the Bible draw me to believe that it is a sacred text that has been supernaturally protected over the years. It’s the number one best seller of all time and comes in more languages than any other book in history. Even without interacting with the text, you have to reason that there is something to be in awe of there.
How did you discover your beliefs?
The key to discovering my beliefs is and has always been: trust. When I was young, I trusted my parents and the things they taught me. As I've grown up, I've trusted those I deem wise including my wife, who has proven time and time again to be more than trustworthy.
I HATE vegetables; despise them. Liz knows this about me, but every now and then she will invite me to try something with vegetables in it. Early in our relationship, I thought she was simply having fun with me, but over the years I’ve learned that she knows me and my palate and offers me only things she genuinely thinks I’ll like. I trust her. I believe she has my best interest in mind and wants me to be healthy. Because of that trust, I am open to trying something new. My beliefs are challenged and on some occasions, changed.
In my experience, if trust is not present, people become combative when asked about beliefs. This is one of the reasons I no longer work at a church. It was my job to be a Christian. How could someone ever trust me enough when I was being paid by the church to guide, counsel, and teach them? In my years of being a youth pastor, I admit there were moments I had a hidden agenda. There were times when I would lead conversations, subtly nudging the outcome towards a calculated result. Not always, but I did this enough times for me to become completely depressed with the state of organized religion in America and retire from ministry.
I think people change their beliefs because of trust, but the absence of trust or the loss of trust can also result in a paradigm shift.
How do you interact with your beliefs?
This is a tough season of spirituality for me. It has been for some time now. While I believe in God and the Bible, I am weary of this thing called Church - you may even say that I do not trust it right now. This lack of trust is causing me to challenge beliefs about going to church and being a "good Christian". So, honestly, I’m not doing anything about my spirituality, save for talking to God when I’m driving, when I wake up or when I fall asleep, when I'm daydreaming, or when I'm thanking him for McDonald's Chicken McNuggets.
And I believe that’s enough.
Writing that is tough because my beliefs are changing from being a Christian who has to do things to just being a Christian. I believe right now is a time for me to do nothing, but I still recognize that this is not the destination. It's simply part of my journey. Perhaps someday I’ll join my wife for a meditation, or visit a parish, or listen to different tones to align my spirit, but right now - based on reason and experience - I believe that doing nothing is healing, refreshing, and renewing me.
What do you do when you doubt your beliefs?
If I have a belief that is based on reason and experience but someone I trust is inviting me on a journey to question my beliefs, I will gladly go on that adventure. The best beliefs can withstand a little mental batting around. That being said, I consider a lot of what I believe in working together like a Sudoku puzzle; when I question something, I don’t think that I am wrong because I understand there may be a different way for things to work together. I’ve changed my beliefs enough that it no longer scares me to do so. While some people or places may teach against doubt - and even call it a sign of sin - I think it may just be our souls trying to figure out this week’s spiritual Sudoku.
To read more My Discovery Process submissions, you can find them here.