This is my reverse testimony – the story of going and in and out of belief. Of letting go and moving on, of conceding that certain labels cannot be redeemed, and that there is faith to be found outside of where you are.
My “testimony” was never all the flashy or compelling for while I had been a Christian my entire life, uneven though my path, it hasn’t exactly been the stuff of legends. I’ve bordered on agnosticism in the past and once tried to stop going to church when I was growing up until I was told by my parents that I would have to talk to the pastor first and what child feels comfortable doing that?
I was content to keep going through the motions because it was comfortable, and let’s face it, there were a lot of great times too. It’s hard for me to say whether or not my feelings were reflective of the truth of those moments. I suspect my nostalgia clouds the reality of the past to a certain extent, especially given what was to come.
Whatever the reality, I had no need to consider anything else until the safety of my world disappeared. To lose someone you love is difficult as it reminds us of just how fragile this whole existence really is. Some people I suppose find ways through trauma like that without turning to Fundamentalism, but I, unfortunately have no idea what that looks like. If I had to do it all over again, I would wish that I had found comfort where I was instead of where I was headed.
My “salvation” is not nearly so memorable. In part because I was on my own and wasn’t aware that people would expect that you know the date and time. But mostly because when it comes to Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism in any of their forms, the likelihood is that you’ll be praying that magic prayer again, and again, and again, and again. For even if it’s “once saved, always saved,” who can ever really know for sure as prone as we all are to failing…repeatedly. We’re supposed to be comforted by the fact that this is proof of our need for a savior, proof that we can never do it on our own, but mostly proof that we’re being lead astray by the Devil. After all, as more than a few Christian bloggers have reminded us, the Bible tells us “there will be a falling away.”
There was this brief moment that the same comfortable feeling from my childhood commuted over. When I just attended church I was blissfully unaware of how very ugly it all was and of course there was that newness that covers over a multitude of blemishes.
I went to Bible college thinking that I was destined to live forever in this wonderful thing called Christianity and it’s assurances of eternal life. I thought I had wonderful answers for the world and wanted to become a missionary to share these answers. I ignored the silly rules figuring that it didn’t really cost me anything. I didn’t share the conviction, but what’s three years?
I graduated and signed the Doctrinal Statement, only at that point agreeing with it mostly. For me it was like agreeing to the iTunes terms just so I can download that song the kids have decided is their new favorite. What am I going to do? Say no? Follow that up with a stint at a mission agency’s office where I had the unlucky privilege of reading the letters sent in by churches when they were severing support for a missionary and their family. They were callous, stingy, and petty. I couldn’t believe what I was reading, but felt content to explain it away like any good Christian.
My husband has baggage I do not understand as he was raised in the culture whereas I was a recent convert. I know any feelings I had through this all were likely much less than his. I suspect if I were him, I would have chucked it all in a heartbeat. There’s a reason that Christian parents put blinders on their children by isolating them. It’s easier to maintain belief if you never see all of the world.
The last ten years have been a journey through the seedy underbelly of faith. We watched as pastors were let go because of moral infractions committed by their teenage children. I practically bit my own tongue off in desperation as I listened to my father-in-law slander a co-deacon’s moral character after making assumptions about his support for his son who had separated from his wife. Apparently, according to my father-in-law, the simple act of helping one’s son move out (you know, to show your love and support of your child) is such an egregious act that it warrants dismissal from church leadership. My husband sat in on discussions as the senior pastor argued during a staff meeting with the youth pastor in that perennial fight for I’m right, you’re wrong. That same pastor was then disciplined and fired because the numbers in the youth group were declining as if people are the same as numbers on a balance sheet.
The most disappointing of all was after my husband had just taken his first full-time ministry job. We were barely in it much more than a year. We had agreed to a $35k salary with the understanding that they would provide benefits while we paid for his graduate degree (which was a requirement for employment). We were chastised when my husband took a second job to help make ends meet, which worked best for our family, while other pastoral families had investment properties and spouses who worked with nary a peep. We reeled when they insisted that they just couldn’t afford the benefits as some slick businessman on the elder board tried to sell us all of the wonders of High Deductible Health Plans. We couldn’t really expect them to give us such “Cadillac” benefits, could we?
I’ve watched as churches argued over ridiculous things like signage while slashing outreach programs (missions and benevolence) and employee compensation to the bone. I saw the flip side of Christian meet Republican in ways I had been blind to before.
If I take it back to the beginning of my Fundamentalist days and sum it all up, my experience of trueChristianity™ has been disappointment turned into disgust turned into soul crushing disillusionment. If I were a “good Christian,” I’d excuse it all away – because that’s what “fallen” human beings are like, right? No need to expect different becausethebibletellsmeso™. Whatever you do, don’t criticize the church because that’s “God’s plan for the world” and he might just smite you for it.
The problem was me, after all. I wasn’t good or faithful enough. If I had just prayed more often or gotten up early in the morning for my daily devotions then I’d never have ended up here. All problems can be solved, after all, by just reading the Bible more and having enough faith.
The thing of it is, the more I listen to the world around me, the more I’ve become relatively certain that God does not exists in the way Christians say he does. If I’m to believe what they say, then surely the God I thought I was worshipping would exist in their words and deeds. Instead…I’ve never seen a more hateful group of people. Listening to Republican candidates (be they for President or Senators in the Wisconsin recall campaigns) and their Christian constituents was the last straw.
I am no longer a Christian. I’m done making excuses. I will no longer play the battered wife to their conquest of our country (and the world) while they insist that what they’re really taking about is “spreading the good news” to “an increasingly broken world that desperately needs Him.” I don’t for one minute believe it. The reality that I’ve found is that folks are pretty much the same way they were before they ever “got saved” and even if there is some noticeable change, it’s probably the effect of positive reinforcement instead of supernatural intervention. The rest is just a distraction from what they’re really doing.
Now, I know GoodChristians™ reading this are going to take issue with several things I’ve written. They think they have the answers to get me back on the right path. I know because I was once that person. I can play the conversation out in my mind because I’ve had it or listened along as someone else did. I know the lingo. I know where you’re going and respectfully, I’ve been there, done that. You can keep your Christianity and I’ll continue to seek out the light of the Divine wherever and in whatever form it appears while also seeking out alternate spiritual paths.
Right now eclectic pagan fits best as I connect more with the world around me. The Divine has always spoken to me loudest when I’m outside. The big trees in our yard have always been more than just plants. Their towering trunks and sheltering branches felt like home from the moment I set foot on this city lot. I have always seen them as wise old women standing watch over my family. When I’m stressed in the dentist chair or meditating after yoga class, tracing their branches in my mind grounds me in a way that nothing else has. It feels honest to admit that even if only online.
Above all, I’m open to the possibilities and I’m less interested in labels or categories these days which above all fits me best.