The Common Good

Meet the Nones: Words Are Unnecessary

Editor's Note: Melissa Otterbein tells her story of why she's part of the 20 percent of Americans who identify with "no religion in particular."Find more stories (or share your own) HERE. Read about the study HERE

Loch Raven Reservoir, Timonium. Photo by Melissa Otterbein
Loch Raven Reservoir, Timonium. Photo by Melissa Otterbein

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A "recovering Evangelical," author Melissa identifies with the "nones" after church experiences in the non-denominational Church, Lutheran Church, Church of God, United Church of Christ, and the kind of Church that happens when you have hour-long conversations with people who are materially poor yet rich in spirit. Each of these "Churches" (and those not mentioned) depict Christ in beautiful ways, she believes, but feels that solely identifying with a denominational designation hasn't seemed to fully capture her faith experience. Though "none" might seem like a shocking response to "which religious tradition do you closely identify with?" it's one that, "offers freedom in Christ that brings me to closer to the Kingdom of God in the here and now."

I am tired of explaining away my faith.

I am tired of defending, “proving,” withholding my true feelings for fear of religious retaliation.
I’m tired of watching some people argue their faith, trying to “win people to Christ” with their cogent, convincing “answers.”
I’m tired of watching Jesus be sold, marketed, put on display.

I’m tired of watching certain people try to convince the world why their God is the right God.
I’m tired of listening to people deify their Bible by retorting this verse and that verse when our God is so much bigger than the sole medium of Genesis-Revelation.
I’m tired of platitudes about the Word and faith and sin and grace that I’ve heard over and over again; for every time I hear these trite remarks, I question if we’ve lost the unadulterated beauty behind such venerable passages.

Perhaps most of all, though, I am tired of trying to find words to capture this faith experience, that is, ultimately, unexplainable. This ineffable, constant connection to this God who even if I were to run away from, would never, in turn, leave me.

I love God.
I love Jesus.
And I believe they love us too.

They love people who are poor, men and women who are gay or lesbian.
They love people who are Jewish.
They love people who are Muslim.
They love each of us, every one of us

And we have this amazing opportunity here on Earth, right now, to join together instead of fight.

To love instead of hate.
To believe instead of explain.
To be wrong instead of “right.”

Sometimes you don’t need words.
At some point they become futile.

When you’re talking about an experience with a Being so grand, this God that you can’t see but yearn with such longing to know deeper… sometimes… sometimes words just aren’t necessary. It’s that feeling you get when you’re outside on the front porch and the sun has long gone down, but you’re still standing there, staring at the moon, and you’re pulled into something deeper and you KNOW that hope does, in fact, exist. That faith is possible. That we’ve all got this journey and we need to be gentler with one another because we are experiencing something deep and intimate and raw and holy. We need to respect the places and the spaces in which each person is filled by God.

It’s this filling, straight from the hand of God, that keeps me coming back for more, not the proving and quoting and selling stuff. I don’t want quick, matter-of-fact, quotidian “answers” to questions that no human being can ever fully know. I’d rather ponder these ancient musings together with you underneath a sky of stars that can be seen but never touched barehanded… you and me and the God who hung them there. And all of this, I believe will pull us in deeper to each other, to God, and our words will slowly decrescendo until we look at each other and both hear nothing and everything at the same time. No audible voices but now that we’re quiet enough, at peace enough, still enough, you can hear this God speaking to you with that still small voice. Only the voice doesn’t feel small anymore. It feels large and infinite, like this God is just sitting here with me, lying on the grass in a big open field right beside me, or inside of me, or both, I don’t know.

I hope as brothers and sisters that this is what we can offer to each other, to the world. Sometimes we just need to let the words fall away and humble our pride so that instead of having an “answer” to all things Christian, we are filled with wonder and amazement as we murmur an appropriate, “I don’t know” to life’s questions. I can’t wait to let those three words— “I don’t know”— roll off my tongue and I can’t wait for my hand to hold the hand of the person who is asking me whatever they are asking or questioning. Because sometimes you don’t need words. Just a love orchestrated by God that is constantly redeeming, making new, making beautiful.

Melissa Otterbein is a research assistant at a Baltimore City HIV/AIDS clinic and blogs at melissaotterbein.wordpress.com.

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