Shaney Irene

On Faith, Life, and Being the Church


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What Nobody Told Me (On Changing Opinions)

Nobody told me my views needed to change.

I used to think I knew everything. Of course, I knew I didn’t know everything, but I thought I pretty much had all the important stuff down. Stuff like God and the Bible. Stuff like the purpose of government and what criteria was important in choosing who got my vote. Stuff like what a godly dating relationship should look like, which denominations followed the Bible and which didn’t, and how to tell whether someone was really a Christian or just a “nominal” one.

This was not (solely) the fault of the ones who taught me as I grew up. I was an incredibly black-and-white person who, once she thought she had figured something out, was pretty closed off to considering the idea that she might be wrong. And I grew up in a Christian sub-culture than tended to reinforce that closed-mindedness. Now, I was told that just because someone might vote for democrats or baptize infants didn’t mean they weren’t a Christian. But it never occurred to me that people might do these things after much thinking, prayer, and reading of the Bible.

I left for college among a chorus of voices telling me to stand strong for the faith, not to let liberal professors sway me, and not to check my brains at the door.

Thank God I met people who opened my eyes to how limited my views were.

People like Trisha and Elizabeth and Stephanie (who were Catholic! Horrors!), people like Josh (who was Anglican), people like Preston (who was southern bapto-angli…what?). Through Preston’s blog, I “met” other people online who continued to challenge my thinking. People like Rachel Held Evans. People like Elizabeth Esther. People like Dianna Anderson (who is a feminist! More horrors!).

I owe so much to these people. They exposed me to other viewpoints. They helped me to realize just how closed-minded I really was, how I was viewing a world full of colors in only two shades: black and white. They showed me how to see people as individuals who had stories, not just collections of ideas. They showed me how many things I once thought were essential really weren’t, how to hold my views loosely, and how to live in the tension of embracing “I don’t know.”

Nobody told me how scary watching my own views change would be.

A lot of my views have changed over the last couple of years. I used to be solidly complementarian, now I identify as egalitarian. I no longer consider myself a calvinist (though I don’t identify as arminian, either). I used to think that Genesis explicitly taught that the world was created in 6 literal 24-hour days. Now I’m not quite so sure (even though I still tend toward that view). I recently accepted the fact that it’s probably accurate to call myself a feminist. And even in the areas where I haven’t really changed my views (I still pretty strongly identify as a libertarian, for example), I’ve started to actually recognize, and even identify with, some of the rationale for other viewpoints.

And sometimes, this scares me.

I sometimes wonder whether I’m failing to stay strong. I wonder if maybe I was right all along, and am allowing myself to be influenced by “unChristian” voices. Sometimes, when I feel most vulnerable, these new ideas feel like something foreign is inside my body, inside my head (this may sound strange to many of you, but I’m the type of person who experiences non-physical things physically). Sometimes, these new ideas feel like unwelcome parasites. I occasionally find myself wanting to bang my head against the wall and yell “Get out!”. Or drink some nasty herbal concoction that purges parasites from the system. Or whatever it is you would do to get rid of ideas that may or may not signal that you haven’t been a strong enough believer.

Nobody told me God would be here.

I’ve always viewed God in very black-and-white terms. God is this; He isn’t that. The idea of God being mysterious was just another way to say, “We don’t know yet.” It’s not until recently that I’ve discovered a God who reveals Himself differently to people depending on where they are, who purposefully keeps some things hidden, who asks us to walk by faith and not by sight.

I’ve discovered that God is not in my boxes. He’s not in my logical syllogisms. He’s not in my systems of categorization, not in my labels, not in my certainty.

I still believe in truth, but I’m starting to realize that God is often found in the gray spaces where the truth isn’t obvious.

Since nobody told me, I’m here to tell you: your specific beliefs don’t define if you have a relationship with God. There’s a good chance your views will change. It will be scary, but God is there.

We truly walk by faith, not by sight.

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On Tragedy, and Using Four-Letter Words in Prayer

Thinking about it still brings tears to my eyes.

It was as if time had stopped. The truck that had just flown past me going at least 60 in a 45 mile-an-hour zone had crashed into another truck–less than two seconds after I had thought, “He’s going to cause an accident.” My mind was still processing the sounds of crashing metal and glass and the sight of smoke, sparks, and a pickup truck rolling over three lanes of traffic before nose-diving into the curb.

Prior to this moment, I had worked five summers as a lifeguard. I had been trained to respond with the utmost clarity of mind in an emergency situation. And in that moment, every other part of my mind shut off and I went into lifeguard mode. I pulled over, grabbed my cell phone, and called 911. I got out of the car. People were flooding into the street from every direction. I first checked on the driver from the truck that had flown past me. Knowing that he was still breathing and okay, I went to check on the passengers in the other truck.

My mind has forgotten the details of the image (I don’t think it wanted to remember), but the impression will always be there. The blood, the unnatural position of their necks. Then, the horrid realization that the car doors were locked, and that I had no available method to get them open. Something inside me started screaming, screaming because I had been trained on what to do in a situation like this, but a door was in my way.

When EMS arrived on the scene, I helped put the first guy on a stretcher, no words needing to be spoken between me and the EMT, who could tell within five seconds that I knew what I was doing. It was a temporary redirection of my brain activity so that I wasn’t focused on what I had just seen. But after the ambulance left and I gave my statement to the police, I broke down. I called my friend Stephen to come get me. When he arrived, he asked me if I was okay, and I burst into tears and said, “No.” I woke up several times that night, shaking and sweating. I skipped all my classes Monday. Tuesday night, a couple friends of mine informed me that the men in the second truck didn’t make it. I cried for at least an hour. I spent the night in my friend’s dorm room, because I couldn’t stand to be alone in my apartment.

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Christians in America are not very good at responding to tragedy. We throw out Romans 8:28 without thinking twice, attempting to lessen the pain. We offer theories as to why God might have allowed the tragedy to happen, or simply state that God knows best and He is in control. And while many of these sentiments are true, we miss the mark. Because in the midst of of pain, what is needed is, most of the time, not assurance of a good outcome. In focusing on the end goal of the tragedy, we miss being there during the journey.

I think walking through tragedy is more about the process than finding the answers. For there is a certain connection we have with Jesus only when we walk through the dark times.

On Easter Sunday my senior year of high school, my pastor preached on how suffering helps us to relate to Jesus. He told a story about a woman who found herself humiliated from being wheeled through hallways in a hospital, naked and exposed. She found herself angry with God for allowing her to go through that experience–until she read the Passion story in the gospels.

“He knows. He understands,” she said after reading about how Jesus had been exposed and humiliated.

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 I don’t get it, God. I just don’t get it. It really seems like You didn’t think this one through…It doesn’t seem to have made a difference that I was there…I was six inches away from helping them and a stupid piece of metal and glass kept me from doing so. You could have done something. Why didn’t You? (From a prayer I wrote down the Wednesday after the accident)

In the days and weeks after the accident, I found myself in a very difficult place. I didn’t know how to deal with the pain I was feeling, and I didn’t know how to pray to a God that I was upset at for not intervening. I ended up letting go of my inhibitions and, for the first and only time, used curse words in my conversations with God. They were the only words I knew that truly expressed what I felt.

Some may question the wisdom of using four-letter words in prayer, for legitimate reasons. I certainly would not encourage anyone to do so in their own prayer life if it goes against their conscience. I am certain, though, that the God who listened to His own Son cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” can take some colorful language from my mouth.

And it is that same God, who in human form endured beating, torture, and hanging on a cross, who cried out to His Father “Why?” who I know can relate to my pain better than anyone else.

At least for now, it’s not about knowing the answers. It’s not even about knowing that it will eventually work out for my good. It’s about knowing the God who suffered, who overturned tables in anger, who wept, who understands my pain, and who walks through it with me.

How can we better walk with people through tragedy? How do we provide support without coming across as dismissive? If you’ve experienced tragedy, how did you deal with it?


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When It’s Not Just Their Story

I need to write something. But, to put it simply, I don’t know what to write. This is already the fourth time I’ve tried to start this blog post. I feel like I should have some goal, some purpose to writing this post. But I’m not sure I do. Maybe someone will find something to connect to here, but I’m mostly writing this for myself.

Some people have stories that are full of pain. God redeems these stories, but it doesn’t change the fact that they are painful. My friend Beka lived, and in some ways is still living, one of these painful stories. Today, she did an incredibly brave thing and wrote about her struggles on her blog. I’m so proud of her, and I’m honored to be able to stand by her side as she shares her story, so that others may be helped.

My story is not like Beka’s story. My story has its own shortcomings, but it’s simply not as painful. But reading Beka’s post today, I experienced several different emotions at once.

On one hand, I was (and am) incredibly proud of her. I am thankful that she is coming to a place where she can talk openly about her struggles. I praise God for bringing her to this point. But the post also made me feel things that are difficult to feel. You see, I consider Beka a sister. So when she was talking about her child–to me, she wasn’t just talking about her child.

To me, she was talking about my niece. 

Today, I learned the name of the niece I would never get to meet this side of heaven.

Hope.

Just hearing her name brought feelings of grief. I’m not talking about grief for Beka’s sake (though I’ve certainly felt that too), but grief for my own loss.  This is not the first time I’ve felt these feelings. The first time that Beka told me that she had been pregnant, and lost the baby, I felt these same feelings. But then, the baby was more of a concept. I didn’t even know the gender. Now, I know the gender, and I have a name.

A part of me feels selfish for feeling this way. After all, isn’t this Beka’s story, not mine?

Here’s the thing, though: nobody lives out their story in isolation. One of the amazing things about the church is that it’s quite impossible to ever really live in isolation. Truly living out God’s commands to live in harmony should result in our stories affecting one another. Not just theoretically, but in real, tangible ways.

Maybe, when God said to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn, He didn’t mean in a symbolic, “I am sad because you are sad,” kind of way. Maybe God meant for us to love each other so much that when we see each other in pain, we can’t help but feel pain as well. Perhaps our stories won’t intersect as clearly as my story is intersecting with Beka’s, but I think the concept still makes sense.

Is it strange to feel grief over someone you never knew?

If you are reading this, I don’t know what you are supposed to get out of this. All I can say is this: I challenge you to live in such a way that really embraces living our stories together. It’s tough, and it means being vulnerable. But even through my grief, I can see the beauty in living my life in such a way that I am affected by my friend’s stories. Many times, we limit our ability to have these connections because we’re afraid. We don’t know what to say, or how to best support our friends going through difficult times. Please don’t let those fears hold you back from loving with everything you have.

Dear Hope, I look forward to meeting you one day.