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.

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Normal

For so many reasons, I am not a normal person. I’d like to think a large majority of them are good reasons but it probably depends on who you ask. I’m definitely not a normal Christian probably no matter who you ask. Normal Christians don’t usually profess to be a Christian and intentionally stop going to church. Normal Christians don’t home church their teenage child. Normal Christians….wait…normal people don’t post personal things on social media. Normal people aren’t vulnerable and willing to share their heartbreaks with random people or even strangers. I haven’t done that here – yet, but stay tuned if you like that kind of really weird stuff.

Here’s another way that I am not normal… I officially choose Christianity as a freshman in college. My peers were sowing their wild secular oats and enjoying their new found collegiate freedoms and I got baptized with the Holy Spirit. I was well aware of what the Bible spoke on God’s judgment of my sinful nature but that wasn’t a significant factor. That Jesus loved me was what mattered to me. Somehow I escaped connecting to God in original sin and shame. Making the decision to accept Jesus into my heart wasn’t about escaping a burning hell and eternal damnation. For me, it was the surrender to a God who loves me. Just another way that I am not normal.

Fast forward a decade or so and here is my dilemma. Why I often feel like I don’t belong. I don’t like Christians very much and I consider myself to be one. (Normal people with common sense don’t admit to this!) It’s not that I dislike people that are Christians. I just don’t like the Christian part of most people. I find myself wanting to escape to another planet where we all connect for some other reason than religion. It might be mutual. Sometimes I wonder if the Christians around me are planning my going away party with zero intention of inviting me to it. Because making a deliberate decision to stop attending church is NOT OK in the Christian world. Blogging about such topics like these are what atheists, agnostics and people lacking God in their lives do. Christians don’t do that. At least not the good ones or is it the real ones? Normal people aren’t confused by this, but I am. I’ve learned that it’s not enough to just be a Christian. You need to be a real Christian and even better, is if you are a good one. What is a bad Christian? Well, apparently I am. Or am I a fake Christian? Whether it’s bad or fake, no one wants to be either one of those. In fact, it’s probably better to not be one at all. There’s hope to convert a heathen but people avoid bad/fake Christians like the plague.

I’ve grappled with being alone in the world, but nothing is lonelier than being someone you aren’t because your belonging is tied up in fitting in, especially in your spiritual community. We teach adolescents to be themselves, but what about when we’re all grown up? With a job, a home, a community and bills to pay and you know the “right” thing to be, but it just isn’t who you are. What’s worse is that I didn’t even realize how fake, even I, who hates disingenuous people, was being. I didn’t realize how I wasn’t being true to me by trying to fit in with my Christian community. I might laugh at something inappropriate. Someone might find out that I let my daughter watch a PG-13 movie before she was 13. Someone might find out that I’ve never liked many of the rituals of being a Christian, but it’s because they felt like they were someone else’s rituals. Copycat rituals. I was taught that they were supposed to be sacred, but most of the time they felt like empty actions with the pretense of being holy. Ultimately I discovered my own religious rituals – now those were holy, even if just to me. But if no one ever saw me engage in my own sacred rituals, then I might not be a good Christian. It seems like being a good Christian is a pronouncement that others make based on what they see us doing. Being a good/real Christian was what I thought was the ideal to aspire to be. I put in the good fight, but I concede. Because I’m just not a good/real Christian and I no longer even want to try (Welcome to my freak show!). I just want to be free to connect to God however he shows himself to me in any given moment. I want to see him in nature, in my child, in my dog, my friends, a goof book or a movie and especially in my community. Because the God I see in those places is so much more life and love affirming for me than the one any church can artificially construct multiple times on any given Sunday. Maybe God made me this exact way and I just haven’t found my tribe of people that like me just the way God made me? I don’t want to feel bad because I connect to God in my own way. One that is meaningful to me. (#NotNormal)

Welcome to Heathenville, USA. Except that I’m not engaging in hedonistic desires or behaviors. I just refuse to try to fit into a culture anymore that reinforces codependency, low self-esteem, connecting to God in shame and that I am undeserving of God’s love. I don’t want to spend time living in the space of being a sinner who deserves hell and where people might shout Halleluiah if I were to wake up every day and profess how unworthy I am of a savior. No. I’ve spent my entire existence living in shame and there’s an inner ick that I can’t will myself any longer to ignore by intentionally choosing to spend time in an arena where we would corporately be encouraged to connect in collective shame for who we are. Maybe it’s a phase, but even Scripture has become something that I associate with Christians using to beat each other and others up with. Bible verses are used to document and justify hate and to strip humanity from the least of these. Normal people can handle this. I can’t.

It’s no wonder the world is in complete chaos – look at how we treat each other. If we connect to God in shame, so rooted in how bad we all are, so afraid of how infections someone else’s sin might be, that’s all we see in each other. I don’t want to be part of an institution that can’t see the glass half full (or better) in humanity. Managers are taught that employees that are treated well, perform well. They are trained to see the good in them and to focus on what employees do well. Popular psychology, self-help books and counselors tell us to assume good intentions, give people the benefit of the doubt, to see the good in others and they will work hard to meet you. In Christian culture – it’s “You deserve death for your sinful nature” and “God hates fags”. How can it be that we humans could be more merciful than our loving creator? I think we got something wrong along the way. (Normal, sane people don’t challenge long standing religious dogma).

My daughter has been my greatest spiritual teacher. I am so incredibly blessed to be her mom and she is a gift in so many ways. It is she, who has been teaching me most how God must think of us. There is nothing she can do that will make me stop loving her. Nothing. I didn’t expect her to be perfect at birth and not a day goes by where I expect that she will be more perfect than the next. Each day brings different challenges and lessons. While I have been her age before and hope I can guide her, she has to find her own way and her own truth. Just like I still do. I would be sick with grief if I ever thought my child lived her life to please me. Or if she woke up every morning feeling like she wasn’t worthy of having a loving mom, her life or anything good. Or in fear that a poor thought, action or behavior could jeopardize how much I love her. It would likely be criminal of me if I did. I can’t will myself to buy into a God that is less merciful towards me than I am to my own child. There’s only room for a God bigger than me and one who loves greater than me. Normal people reject this idea but this abnormal girl is speaking out.