On why I left the church, and how I came back…

When I was a freshman in college, I walked away from God and the church. Actually, I’d say I ran away screaming.

My first six months of college I attended a campus Christian group. We would meet every week, discuss the Bible and hang out. Then, one week we started talking about judgment. No, I don’t mean we talked about how we will be judged, or salvation. We didn’t talk about being saved through grace, or acts, or some other theological debate. I mean, the group of people I was sitting with started discussing who was going to heaven and who was going to hell. I thought that was bullshit.

I was so offended by the conversation that I left and didn’t come back to God for about seven years.

My falling off started small, but grew over time. I began doubting God’s existence. I wondered how a gracious God could create a world with so much bullshit. I was angry that I suffered from depression and had experienced so much loss, while other people seemed happy and full of life. I stopped attending church. I never read the Bible. I stopped praying. I stopped believing. If you asked me if I believed in God, I would have told you ‘Hell, no!’

The thing about God’s voice, is that once you’re really heard it – it is impossible to stay away. Although I thought I had left everything I once knew about Christianity, God still wanted me.

After seven years, my life started turning to shit. My now ex-husband was going to leave me. Graduate school was terrible. I was suffering from three solid years of depression. I felt like I had nothing left.

I got into my car and decided I was going to drive it off of a bridge. I started driving around looking for a place where I could gather enough speed, and where I could drive off without hurting anyone else.

But then I heard something. Something was telling me that this didn’t have to be the answer. Instead of driving my car off the bridge, I called a suicide hotline. The woman on the other end, whose name I don’t even remember, saved my life. She convinced me to call my brother. My brother came and got me.

Two days later, I started going to church again. I googled the church that was closest to me, and just started going. I was terrified that someone in the church would be able to see that I had been fighting for team atheist, and that they’d throw me out. No one did that.

I use to think my journey was beautiful and unique. I guess in some ways it is, because it is mine. However, since time has passed I’ve talked to at least a dozen people who’ve followed a similar path. I think a lot of people leave the church because people within the church are shitty to them.

For some strange reason, growing up going to church, I always had this weird idea that church-goers were somehow better people. After over twenty years of going to church, I now see how naïve that is. I do think that churches need to do more to let people know that Christians are not perfect, and that pastors are people who sometimes fuck up. After attending church for a few decades I hope I’m a better person. Even if I’m better, I’m never going to be perfect. No matter how hard I try, I’m probably going to do something that hurts someone.

Churches are full of people. And sometimes people are really crappy. Hopefully, churches can be a safer (safer than work or home) place where we can turn to each other in our times of need. But sometimes, churches fail.

When you are crapped on in church, it is easy to look at the church and blame God for the problem. It is also easy to think all Christians are as terrible as the person/people that treated you poorly.

I’ve found that when I talk to a crappy sales person from a company I often think that the cruddy sales person IS the company. The number one reason people don’t return to a restaurant is a bad waiter. And the main reason people leave a company is a bad boss. Does a bad waiter mean the whole restaurant is terrible? Does a bad boss mean the whole company is worthless?

If you identify as a Christian, and you treat someone like a jerk, it is probable that the person you treated poorly will think that you are representative of all Christians.

I was able to come back to church because I was able to make an important distinction. Going to church is a lot like going to a gym. Some people are going to be really fit, healthy, and in shape. But there are also going to be a lot of people that are unfit, and need to spend a lot of time getting in shape. We don’t go to church because we are perfect. We go to church because we are hoping to get better. If we all had to be perfect in order to meet Jesus, none of us would be good enough.

If you’re reading this, and someone within the church has hurt you – I want to tell you that I’m sorry for that. I’m sorry that someone hurt you. That sucks.

If you’re reading this, and I’ve hurt you – I am sorry for that as well. I’m sorry I was a crappy person.

In the campus Christian group, those people were just being jerks that day. It doesn’t mean they are terrible people. It certainly doesn’t mean God is terrible.

At the end of the day, the most important thing, is that you are a child of God and God loves you. No matter what you’ve done, and no matter what others have done to you, God loves you. In a perfect world we would always be examples of Christ. We would let other people be themselves. We would hold each other when we are in pain. We would protect each other, help each other grow, we would be safe places in a storm. But we are people, and we will fail.

No matter where you are, if you’ve ever heard the voice of God – He is calling to you. He wants you to hear Him. He needs you. And if you’ve ever heard the calling, you know that you need Him too.
From the day my husband and I were baptized.

On Blue Like Jazz…

My fiance calls my debate and speaking style “laser-like.” I am not much for rambling, and I am quickly annoyed by people that blabber on unnecessarily.  However, for whatever reason, I saw a movie this past week-end and my mind cannot form one concise thought or argument on how the movie impacted me.  Thus, I shall do the unthinkable, and attempt to ramble.

Blue Like Jazz.  A tiny movie about a Texas boy with divorced parents who was active in a Baptist church.  After the boy discovers that his mother is having an affair with the church youth pastor, he abandons his plan to attend a Christian college and opts instead for a crazy hippy liberal college on the West coast.  While there, he questions his faith, doubts his beliefs, throws down God and Christ and everything Christian.  By the end, of course, he somehow manages to balance the bad things Christians have done to him and the people he loves with his love of God.  Yes, it is a feel good movie.

SPOILER ALERT

At the end of the movie, the boy apologizes.  He apologizes to his friend who was raped by a priest.  He apologies to everyone who has ever been hurt by a Christian in the name of their God.  For whatever reason, I want to do that too.

If for some reason, a Christian has hurt you – I apologize.  I apologize if you have been raped, or hurt, or beaten down or degraded or made to feel less than.  I apologize for the churches you have attended that have told you God will not love you because you are X or Y or Z or have done A or B or C.  I apologize for the kids that picked on you when you just wanted to be left alone.  I apologize for the priest or pastor that told you that you could not be a priest or pastor.  I apologize for the pain, the hurt, the grief, the agony.  I apologize for all of that.   It is ignorant to think that I have never caused anyone pain – so I apologize for myself.  I have messed up a lot.  I have hurt people.  For that, I am sorry.

Not too long ago, I lost all of my faith.  For a long list of reasons, I lost all hope I ever had in God or Christ.  I cursed everything religious and any person who practiced a religion.  I thought they were dumb, naïve, stupid and condescending.  I hated God.  I hated Jesus.  Most of all – I hated everyone who called themselves a Christian, but actively practiced hate (yes, I see that irony now).

One day I woke up, and everything I loved felt like it was gone.  On that day, I felt like I had no friends, no family, no job, no education – and no God.  My options, frankly, were suicide or to find everything I thought I had lost.  Obviously, I did not choose the former.  Instead, I walked into a Lutheran church in a Polish part of Milwaukee.  I don’t know why (grace, most likely), but that day – everything started coming back to me.  An old man who was greeting in the church said hello to me.  He invited me to coffee after the service.  I did not stay.  I came.  I attended service.  I left.

I left, and then… I started going back to church.  However, I did something different this time.  I hated going to church growing up.  I thought it was boring, dumb and I remember leaving feeling like I loathed myself.  Ick.  So instead, I came back on my own terms.  I went to dozens of churches and dozens of denominations.  I listened to some Catholics, a Unitarian, a few Lutherans, a crazy Charismatic guy – and a TON of other people.  I did what very few seem to do… I was lost, and I searched until I felt found.

Along the way, I realized what I think the main character in the movie realized. I realized that God does not hurt people and that religion does not hurt people.  I realized – that people hurt people.  Some of those people call themselves Christians or call themselves Muslims or Atheist or…..  At a Christian place where I use to work I once had a lady tell me, “We are all Christian here, but we are all humans first.”

That is the simple truth of the movie.  We are all human first.  And, frankly, some humans REALLY suck.  They hurt a lot of people.  And I am not sure if there is anything worse than someone saying “It is okay I am hurting you because God said so.”  People do that so they do not have to take accountability for their own actions.  People do that so they can give themselves more power to be hateful and cruel.

For what do I hope?

I hope for honest and respectful discourse about the insanely diverse beliefs that we all have about God.  Or about a lack of God, or the existence of multiple gods,  and everything in between.  I have had dozens of conversations with people regarding their religious beliefs – and not one person shared all the beliefs of another.

I hope that people admit that they are humans first.  We mess up.  We are not perfect.  I know of a college professor who tells he students that he has not sinned in years.  Pft, yeah right dude!  Giving off the impression you are perfect does not make me envy you, it makes me feel inferior to you and thus fear you.  We question God, we question the world, we question people, we questions our faith, we question lots of things.  It is human to think.  It is human to err.

I hope we can forgive.  Confession time.  I was once soooo bitter about things that had happened to me that when I would say the Lord’s prayer I would say “And forgive us our trespasses” but would leave out the “as we forgive those that trespass against us.”  That is right, I was asking people to forgive me but doing nothing to forgive others – not my best moment.  I cannot say I have forgiven everything in the world and should be a keynote speaker at a forgiveness convention (for that – call my fiance – dude is a pro!).  I can say that I have learned to forgive and move along. I can say that it always gets better.

I hope that we can just get better.  Starting… right…….now.