I’ve found that it’s much easier to be “honest” with people who are not affiliated with The Church… it’s much easier to pull back, disassociate, and perhaps even poke fun a bit. But I found that I lost my voice when speaking to those who have first-hand knowledge, the kids I grew up with. Oh, it would have been very easy if we ALL felt angry, damaged, and betrayed. But we don’t. There are a few who are still in The Church, and who are willing to defend it. One particular person, who I was very fond of as a child, wrote a long, passionate post about why he still believes in The Church so adamantly. Almost as if by magic, I felt myself crumbling, shrinking into myself, chastised for my unbelief, and wishing that I had never opened myself to his viewpoint — I felt like I had been told once again by The Church that hell is the only possible consequence of questioning that faith. (See this post.)

But then, something happened… something wonderful. His words, which I read as a challenge (whether he meant them that way or not) stirred something besides anger and fear. They stirred something deep in me that’s been growing, an understanding that while he has a right to his beliefs, SO DO I. What a novel, beautiful, boundary-shaking thought — one that may seem so simple and obvious to some, but so freeing to me and others who were taught to believe that there is only ONE WAY.

So I wrote the following paragraphs on the message board. Although these words may seem very basic in the context of this blog, where I’m more likely to write honestly than anywhere else, they felt very brave when directed to their intended audience. For the first time, I felt like I was transparent and not ashamed in the face of The Church and therefore, myself.

It’s strange, really… I’ve harbored so many feelings (good & bad) for so many years about my religious upbringing. I was TERRIFIED about contacting ya’ll again, because I was afraid that I was the only one who had walked away with less-than-perfect memories. I wondered if I was the only one who felt damaged…

And after a week or so of reading your words, I felt… better. That seems like a really small word — maybe “somewhat healed” would be a better choice? Not completely, obviously… it’s more like I’ve spent years with a splinter in my finger, and it’s been infected, hurting, festering, painful. And then, you guys helped me remove it FINALLY. It’s going to take a while for it to heal completely, if it ever does, but at least some progress has been made.

Digging the splinter out was emotionally exhausting — I had buried that crap down deep. And I wonder if there’s more down in there that needs to come out. I don’t know. What I DO know is that after my week of thinking/dreaming/constantly checking this group, I suddenly felt empowered to try church again. When that little voice in my head started it’s nasty talk about how I was wasting my time, how The Church is the only way, I told it to shut up. For the first time, I’m considering the novel idea that the little voice is wrong… that the people in my childhood, however sincere, were WRONG. It’s liberating.

I scheduled a meeting with the pastor of the church I’ve been trying… for the first time, I sat down with a man who is my spiritual “superior” and didn’t feel intimidated. I told him very briefly about my childhood religion, and how I was still struggling to shed the baggage. We talked about the God of Grace, and how I’ve only known a God of Fear. He told me that his father was an alcoholic, and that being raised in a family with substance abuse carries much of the same baggage as being raised with religious abuse.

I know that some of you have walked away with mostly pleasant memories, and I’m glad. I didn’t. My father was/is egocentric & religiously abusive, and the church’s male-centered doctrine gave him the perfect outlet. Acknowledging this is my first step to dealing with it, I guess.

Anyway, I said all that to say this. Thank you all for sharing your memories, thoughts, etc. It’s helped me more than you can imagine.

So what now? Where do I go from here? I feel a bit like a ship that’s lifted anchor after years of tethered in an enemy land — free, but also directionless. I feel impatient to find a new shore, but also terrified that I will discover that my new shore is not all that I imagined. But I know, I finally truly KNOW, that the new land WILL be better than the one I just left.

I’ve read “The Jesus I Never Knew” and am now working on “What’s So Amazing About Grace?” The Jesus, the deity, that is discussed in these books is a new one for me. For the first time, I’m beginning to understand and maybe even believe Yancey’s words when he writes:

There’s nothing you can do to make God love you less. There’s nothing you can do to make God love you more.

When I first read those words, I felt like a convict whose life sentence had just been pardoned — thrilled, but incredulous. I’m still trying to understand and come to peace with Mama’s death… today I’m heading to the bookstore to buy Yancey’s “Where Is God When It Hurts?” For the first time since Mama left me, I really want to know the answer to this question and I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt. For more than a year after her death, my thoughts were more along the lines of “Who gives a f*ck where God is? F*ck him and the chariot he rode in on.”  And guess what? Apparently, thinking that didn’t make God love me any less….  who knew?!