Jacqueline Riley was on the ministry pathway. But began to understand God differently. Now, more than wresting with literal Bible, heaven or hell, wrath and judgment, Jacqueline preaches the love of God.
As her personal trainer, I've taught Jacqueline a thing or two about fitness. But she's taught me about divinity. I have wrestled with shame over my inability to have faith that many Bible stories are true. (I don't believe Jonah lived in the belly of a whale; I don't think if baby Moses was put in a basket that he floated down a river, harmlessly, to Pharaoh's daughter... this is just a snippet of the stories I read like "huh?") I get anxious over what that means and what the eternal implications are. What weight was lifted when I learned that this inspirational woman who knows the Bible, has explored original Greek and Hebrew context, and intended on being a missionary has had similar struggles. She told me that she has come to this: "I know God is love. He loved me so much that he brought me into this world. So, why would that stop when I die? He loved me enough to get me here; he's going to keep loving me when I leave it." With that, I just had to ask Jacqueline to share more as our Woman Crush Wednesday. Here's her story.
Explain your life growing up in terms of what you were taught and believed about spirituality.
Growing up I always felt a closeness to God and knew that He was with me. As I got older I started to believe that my behavior could separate me from this sense of closeness and nearness. Instead of feeling love in my lowest times, I felt shame and guilt.
You went to school with the intention of working in ministry. Where were you studying and what was the curriculum like? Yes. I wanted to travel the world and share God’s love with people. I went to MorningStar University. MorningStar was part of the charismatic church, so along with bible & theological studies we learned about hearing God’s voice, the power of the Holy Spirit, and moving in the gifts of the spirit.
What veered you off the ministry course?
When my grandmother, my dearest friend, passed away, it opened up a deep place of grief in my soul and along with that came a newfound freedom. I no longer felt the need to please people or God. I had this sense that God wasn’t so concerned with me pleasing Him, performing for Him, or being on my best behavior…things that the church had always taught me were of utmost importance. Guilt, shame and condemnation were no longer part of my spiritual walk. I could now enjoy God and my life. I felt like He was inviting me to really live, relax, enjoy the mundane moments of my life and be myself…to taste and see that this world is so good and so full of amazing people and incredible adventures. I began to realize that this was the most spiritual thing I could do. During this time I started questioning long held beliefs & exploring new ideas. For the first time I felt free to do what I wanted, and realized that there was more for me outside of the church than inside of it.
What do you now believe?
My goodness I could write a book about how my beliefs have evolved and are continuing to evolve! What I believe now is that everyday life is holy, not just things like evangelism, mission work & ministry. Everyday moments are magical and filled with the opportunity to love & care for people, the environment, animals, and the world around us. Every little thing and person is incredibly valuable and worthy of care.
I believe that God is love. No…really. Picture the most loving, kind-hearted person you know and then multiply that by infinity…that is God. We will never be able to exhaust His goodness. I believe this at my very core, so now when I look at the Bible, religious doctrine, or really any belief system, I filter it through this knowing of who He is. For example, the belief that God sends people to Hell just didn’t make sense to me anymore in light of God’s love. With my newfound courage I began to explore and critically think about this very foundational belief within the church culture I grew up in. How is this consistent with love? Instead of justifying and rationalizing this thought away, as I had always done, I stopped and really let myself critically think. I believe that thinking about these contradictions is so healthy.
I believe that people are inherently good, and that even the darkest soul is worthy of love and capable of redemption. I also believe that having open, honest and authentic conversations with people is so much more important than my belief system. My beliefs are more fluid now and constantly changing. I am not afraid to be challenged and I am open to change!
I believe that God is not intimidated or shaken by the darkness in the world or our own lives. I also believe He doesn’t separate Himself from darkness, but quite the opposite…He draws close, luring us to His love with goodness and kindness. The darkness and struggle in our lives is the very thing He uses to create beauty.
I believe God is not nearly as interested in control as we think. So many times we are looking for His will, but what if God is more interested in our plans than His plans. What if He is more interested in creating something beautiful with us than for us? Or maybe it’s a beautiful mixture of both?
What would you tell Christians who dismiss anything other than the literal Bible? (And label people as “unsaved,” according to their dogma)
I would first say that I completely understand where they are coming from. I myself believed the Bible was literal, and many people that I love dearly still do. I want to make it clear that I ,in no way, think I have a superior belief system now that I don’t see the Bible as literal. There are many ways to interpret the Bible…this is mine. <3
Growing up the Bible was described to me as literal (true to fact), infallible (incapable of error) and inerrant (without error or fault in its teaching). It was almost idealized to the same position as God Himself.
These words that once held so much power for me now make me very leery. When something is called the literal word of God and infallible, it automatically implies that it can’t be questioned. Now that I’ve stepped back from being fully immersed in religious culture, I can now see that anything that can’t be questioned is unhealthy. Questioning, doubting and disagreeing are all very healthy emotional and psychological responses. Any group, book or otherwise that doesn’t let you doubt, question and disagree, without paying a consequence, is unhealthy.
I feel like loving, listening and understanding is so much more valuable than being right. There is a whole world of Christians that don’t believe that the Bible is literal, and it doesn’t take any of it’s value away. For many it makes the Bible all the more valuable. It makes it a book full of real stories with real people having very real struggles in their understanding of the world, themselves and God. It makes it so much more relatable and real for me.
I think it’s important that we start having more open and honest conversations around difficult biblical stories (especially the ones that paint God as a vengeful, retributive God) and long held doctrines. How you interpret something makes all the difference.
Jacqueline lives with her husband, Michael, and daughter, Elizabeth, in Georgetown, TX.
Nonviolent communication is something you believe strongly in. Tell us about that.
I love this quote by Walt Whitman…”be curious, not judgmental”. Curiosity opens us up to really know someone. I want to be open to really hear and listen to the people I love, even when their thoughts, feelings and ways of living differ from my own. Instead of saying… “well I don’t see it that way”….I have learned to say…. “that’s interesting….tell me more…and then tell me more…and then more…”. I feel like we can solve so many problems through observing without evaluating, and honestly communicating our needs without blame.
Click here for more info on non-violent communication.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you Brook. You are such a gift to all of us. I am happy to continue this conversation for anyone that is interested.
Where can our readers find and connect with you?