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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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.

 

 

 

The Journey Begins

I’ve grown increasingly used to the fact that few value what the single mom might have to say. That most people don’t value what any marginalized or underprivileged member of society thinks, feels or experiences.

If we go to the Bible – God almost always used the marginalized, the weak, and the powerless to accomplish the greatest things. 2000 years later, these stories are still used to teach of God’s character, to empower others and inspire hope. Interestingly, in both secular and non-secular society, we’re still looking to those in power, the most popular, the charismatic, the superstars and the physically attractive to be our role models of success and how to do “life”. Then we usually elect them into politics. Then we complain about how our world is falling apart.

In the Christian world, church attendance is so deeply embedded as the prescription for how to “do” life. Once you’re in church, assuming you look relatively normal (no oozing wounds, don’t appear to be drunk or high, you have both eyeballs, etc.), it becomes about small groups and giving your talents and treasures back to the church, studying and memorizing the Bible. If you have extra time after that – go out into your community and serve. Tell them about Jesus so that they can start coming to church and serving the needs of the church too (which are mostly supporting the institution that cranks out the Sunday performance). Then when confronted with the homeless, the addicts, the criminals we say among ourselves – “They just need Jesus. We need to get them to church”. It seems we’d rather go to church and hear stories of the once marginalized rather than having much to do with them ourselves.

Jesus, the man, made arguably the greatest impact on our world as we know it and he did it by showing us that we find God in loving and serving the least of these, the broken, and the unloved. He became the marginalized. A friend of mine shared this quote from a Facebook post “True worship has little to do with songs, choirs and instruments but everything to do with how we treat the poor, the orphaned, single parents, prisoners, immigrants and the marginalized”

I feel like I’m living in a world where I certainly don’t have all of the answers. I’m fumbling along like everyone else. However, after more than a decade as a member of the marginalized, it is my opinion that mainstream church has got it all wrong. I find myself hungering for the presence of the unashamedly broken because I see and experience God there like I so rarely have in 25 years of regular church attendance. I see God in our conversations and in our relationship. I see God in them.

Christians, this is all so very confusing and heart breaking. I see suffering all around me. I see us proclaiming the love of God but I rarely see us practicing it. I love all of my Christian friends so dearly but I am not seeing God in our churches. I’m just not. It wasn’t until I became a marginalized member in society that I began to see, really see church and Christianity in a new light. My relationship with God is more important than anything else. I need to follow him, not a church/institution/pastor and not what other Christians are doing just because they’ve been told it’s the only way. I’m sad because I know I will likely lose so many of my Christian friends. I will be seen as abandoning my faith as if somehow my faith is inextricably tied to attending church. I see it as going deeper in my faith and spending more time in the places where I am seeing and experiencing God. I’m pretty sure Jesus will be with me 😉

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me” – Matthew 25:40

“Each one of them is Jesus in disguise” – Mother Teresa (in reference to the poor)

“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” – Acts 14:22

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found, and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” –Matthew 13:44-46