This is the first time I've interacted with Carmen. I'm not sure how long she's been a reader, or how she found me, but I'm thankful we've connected. When she submitted her responses, I spent some time on her website and felt an immediate draw to her through her words and conceptual art. Particularly this:
"Whether or not Jesus is the son of God is not the point. Trying to earn your way to heaven by believing in what you're told and convincing others to do the same is not the point. Threatening others with eternal punishment for not believing what you do is so far from the point, it's ludicrous. But as the vulnerable, gullible, naive and connection-deprived humans that we are, we will believe anything for the promise of something better - even as we neglect the gifts right before us. It's the ultimate carrot and stick; grass is always greener; lowest common denominator. It has MASS appeal. Doesn't require much effort or thought. In fact, questioning has traditionally been discouraged because if you dig deep enough, answers will surface and flaws in the system will be discovered."
12/5/15, Swoon Me
If we are cut from cloth, I'd like to think she and I are swatches of the same strip of fabric.
Responses by Carmen Melton
What do you believe, and why?
My beliefs are constantly changing, not as an evolution of religious faith, but rather from one range of endless possibility to the next. I do believe there is something resembling of the term “divine force” - an architect, something omnipresent weaving throughout the universe which perhaps set some things in motion - but I can no longer profess to understand the character or intention of God. In fact the more I discover, the more I realize just how much is unknowable about God, and that most things are far beyond our scope of understanding. I still have an insatiable desire to explore any spiritual questions that arise, but I'm no longer afraid of what answers or further questions might be unearthed in the seeking.
How did you discover your beliefs?
Like most people I was raised in a family faith tradition. Mine happened to be Southern Baptist. The first really powerful experience I can remember was around age 5 or 6 when the end-of-worship altar call compelled me to walk down the aisle and “accept Jesus into my heart”. The following week I was totally submerged, all sins washed away, in front of the whole congregation. I doubt I understood what it all meant at the time; I was just doing what I thought was necessary to avoid “going to the devil”. Now I look back on that childhood experience, and the whole notion of scaring people into following a particular belief system, no more or less valid than any other, is morally reprehensible to me.
From that point forward, my process of discovery about my belief in God, the universe, and everything, began to shift. Slowly at first and then more rapidly the further away I got from my southern roots. As the layers of my conditioned upbringing continue to peel away, I acquire more and more breathing room where I can more authentically understand who I am as a person, or “God’s plan for me” so to speak. I believe this is a lifelong process, always growing towards the light. Without growth, we become stagnant. And stagnation is death on so many levels.
How do you interact with your beliefs?
At this point in my journey, I can accept the unanswered questions and I can find solace in the unknown. As someone with an endless imagination, one of the ways I feel most connected to God is when I entertain a new idea - about the universe, our place in it, what the afterlife might be like - all these possible scenarios are like God’s own playful interaction with me. I enjoy it so much, and I feel he must delight in it too. No longer do I fear hell, or worry that heaven might somehow be just like high school, or filled with people I'd rather not spend eternity with. There's no sadness that I might simply cease to exist when I die. Instead I allow my mind to wander, coming up with crazy theories like… maybe I'll become a new planet... or a peach tree... or exist as a hydrogen molecule! These kinds of fantasies would be unthinkable or even blasphemous to some of my Christian acquaintances, but they actually fill me with a sense of peace about the mere possibility. More so than any church sermon or bible verse ever has. Not that there aren't many profound and beautiful truths in the bible, I just don't think truth is confined only to it, or to Christianity, or any one religion or philosophical perspective for that matter. Beauty, wonder, love, divinity - these things are all around us and deep within us. And it's ok to experience them wherever and however we do. This is one of the more liberating truths I have discovered: that God has provided every human being with countless means and ways with which to experience his divine love for us. It is up to us to cherish and savor them all.
What do you do when you doubt?
My doubts aren't and really never have been related to my faith. Despite whatever conclusion I have come to about God over time, how it might change on any given day, past or future, his presence in my life remains as the constant, steady stream of consciousness behind all thoughts and actions. The things I doubt pertain more to my insecurities of human-imposed worries, like my ability to articulate certain concepts in my art, my capacity for accomplishing mounting daily tasks, or my parenting skills over the often unforeseen circumstances. For these kinds of doubts, I find that a long hike, connecting with the kids over a meal, or just sitting quietly in the midst of all the birds, insects and plant life in the backyard is enough to relinquish the doubts. I remind myself that in time, as my dad so often says, “It will all pass”. So I try to enjoy it now, and look for the beauty in every moment. Because, seek and you will find, right?
To read more My Discovery Process submissions, you can find them here.