Losing My Religion

I’ve been losing my religion for about a decade now. I didn’t mean to do it. In many ways, I wish I could go back. In some ways, I’m glad I can’t. It hasn’t been easy. In fact it just about killed me. My life had become what others have since affirmed. I was a modern-day Job. Everything had progressively been stripped from my life – family, health, finances, and career. People say you don’t really know God until he’s all you have left. That was me, until I got to a place where religion would lead me to think that I had lost him too. Talk about despair.

It all started with my divorce. Actually it started with a herniated disc in my lower back that ended up being the straw that broke the camel’s back of my marriage…and my back too (ha ha) but those are both long boring stories. Life continued to get worse following both my divorce and paralyzing back injury and no help to care for my then 2-year-old daughter.

In the religious world, prosperity and healing is often regarded as a sign that you are right with God. Injury, illness and catastrophe is often a symptom of unconfessed sin, unforgiveness, unfaithfulness, and a sign that you have gone wrong somewhere in the religious formula. When you are doing it right, the sick get cured, the lame will walk, the blind will see, bills get paid, money appears, your home is spared the tornado that devastated the rest of the street. There is no room for undeserved pain. So, my Christian friends told me that the only answer left for my continuing struggles was that I must have unconfessed sin. I took that to prayer and I asked. I got nothing. Religion taught me that I just needed to keep asking. Nothing. So, I began to beg God, over and over and over to reveal to me my unconfessed sin. I didn’t want to keep displeasing him so greatly that he would continue to strip me of my extended family, husband, child, finances, continuously losing in divorce court, my health, my sleep, my back. I was definitely a modern-day Job and I wanted that to change. I tithed. I served. I attended church every week. I wanted to do all of those things but I also wanted my life to get better and it just continued to get worse. Worst of all, my greatest prayer of wanting my unconfessed sin to be revealed was not answered. In fact I got no answer at all. After a time, I felt that even God had abandoned me.

As a last resort, I decided to read my new Chronological Bible in a Year. To stay accountable to my goal, I started a daily blog to create a structure to really understand what I was reading, rather than check off the reading for the day as completed. I often had to rely on Biblical commentaries to help me, but I was determined to “figure it all out”. Religion kept me in the belief that I was bad, wrong and sinful. It kept me stuck and this was my plan for redemption, or so I thought.

Unfortunately, my dark night of the soul ebbed into dark years of the soul. Going into this reading/blog endeavor, I was really familiar with The New Testament and had already read most of it. As the weeks turned into months, I started to realize that if the New Testament is the ‘ Gospel Good news’, than the Old Testament was…the Gospel Bad news. The Old Testament is full of events that were absolutely horrifying. It’s one thing to hear about God’s favored people on a random Sunday or how God killed unrepentant people. It’s another to read passage after passage, day after day of the brutality attributed to God. Regular church attendance is sold for being like mini seminary, the place where regular Christians get schooled on The Bible. So, in a way regular church attendance is exactly what ended up shielding me from realizing that God is apparently responsible for killing almost 3 million people, until now. There’s no sermon that ties together all of God’s mass killings! For good reason, people might stop going.

If people die at God’s hand, is it still murder? Is it okay for God to violate the 10 Commandments? Then there’s also the threat that if you don’t repent of your constant sinful nature you will spend eternity in hell and there’s never enough repentance. There is no holiday for being unclean. It sounds utterly exhausting and no wonder the sacrificial blood of Jesus was such good news! However, did the blood of Jesus also transform God from being a sick psychopath to unconditionally loving? God allowed Satan to inflict suffering upon Job to prove that Job would remain loyal to God even if all of his prosperity was taken. If you have kids, would you do that to one of them? I wouldn’t. Can we mere humans be capable of more love than an unconditionally loving God?  I began to wonder how many Christians have actually read the entire Bible. Because, no one ever talks about this kind of thing.

The brutality that I read God capable and responsible for was very much a problem for me. If my faith was in the Bible and its inerrancy than I had to revise my unconditionally loving God to being a complete psychopath. If I wanted to keep my belief in an unconditionally loving God, I had to change my beliefs about the Bible. I could no longer hold room for an unconditionally loving God AND an inerrant Bible. I ultimately kept my unconditionally loving God and concluded that the Bible is a collection of writings, possibly divinely inspired, but more likely, man’s attempt to document his experiences with God. At times, it was man projecting his anger, resentment, prejudice and privilege upon God. At others, it was man projecting his love, joy, peace and humility on God. It all sounds pretty human to me.

The deconstruction of my religion was and is terrifying. It’s lonely. I no longer fit into Christianity, but I’m not an atheist or agnostic. I have not found a new religion and I’m not looking for one. I desire to be in a place of no religion because religion harmed me and all around me I see how it has and is harming others. I don’t think it has to be that way and I’m still looking for my place in this world. God help me.

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Modern Tower of Babel

I have a confession – I’m a single mom without a mom or family of my own. I have really struggled to find authentic community inside the church. I’ve continued to try, year after year. I’ve grown used to feeling like I just have to figure it out myself. It is, perhaps one of my greatest strengths and also one of my greatest weaknesses. My life circumstances haven’t fit into a nice neat box that the church can usually relate to. Often, the more I couldn’t connect inside the church seemed to push me to seek ways to connect to God outside of the church. Honestly, I’ve spent the greater part of a decade convinced something was wrong with me. I went more on a desperate search to figure out what it was than to find God, but that might be the subject for a later post. For now, just know that God found lots of ways to make himself known to me. When Christians couldn’t relate to me, God found a way to relate to me. When Christians didn’t have time for me, or compassion, or wisdom or encouragement, God found a way. I didn’t always know it at the time. In fact, usually I didn’t.

The result of looking outside of church? God went from being mostly a “Sunday” thing to an everyday thing. Actually, an every second thing. Now, I hear and see God in everything I am involved in. He shows up in every movie I see, every book I read, the things people say to me, everywhere in nature, in my dog, my daughter, the homeless person begging, those who are attracted to the same sex, those that I have relationship difficulties with and even the mass shooter that killed 17 people this past February. I’ve learned that God is always there and it’s only my awareness of him that ever changes.

Another realization of my desperate search to find God (or was it myself?) outside of the church? I discovered that for me, my relationship with God is really a private matter. I connect best and most with God when I am alone. I love when I can share that with others, but it never seems to happen in structured ways or times, even when I try, especially when I try. Usually it happens in random relational moments that are so awesome I actually wish I could manufacture them at will, but it never happens like that. My spirituality is primarily a private relationship and at a distant second, a social one.

It’s only in hindsight that I realize that when my relationship with God revolved more around Sunday mornings services, small groups or service to the church, the subtle message (sometimes not so subtle) was that I couldn’t really have a relationship with God without the church. Ironically, outside of the church and arguably, somewhat outcast from it, is exactly where I did find him. Prior to, God was more of an abstract construct in my mind, than something or someone, real in my heart. I definitely knew the right words to say that conveyed Jesus was in my heart. I absolutely meant those words at the time. However, I could only draw upon the words others had used to tell me about God, usually regurgitations from the Bible during services or in small group. It’s almost like our own experiences with God are not to be trusted or valued. Instead, it is much safer to rely on the experiences of God as they occurred through Bible heroes .Now that I have my own experiences with God, I am much less interested in what Abraham and other Bible characters said or did with God and more interested in what God has to say and experience with me. Selfish of me, I know.

The funny thing is. I’m currently on the outside of church, but feel more connected to God than ever. Those still inside believe that I just need to find Jesus. But I’ve already “have” Jesus. The more adamant they are that I need to be in church to experience the real God, the more separate from them I feel.  I can no longer override my own experience with someone else’s theology. Quite frankly, I wonder whose voice they might be listening to. How can they know what’s best for my soul’s growth? Is there really a one size fits all? Like the tower of Babel, it seems we speak a different language, except I feel pretty fluent in theirs because I used to speak it too.