Today I read an article about Tony Campolo on Patheos.com that an old college friend shared on Facebook. In the article, Tony talks about his change of heart and mind about the inclusion of LGBTQ men and women into the Christian church. Tony is an extremely charismatic speaker and leader in the Christian church so this is a pretty big deal. I think it's pretty awesome. I don't know this man but I know him. I know it takes great humility, bravery and love to be willing to say "I might not have all the answers." And as a leader in the Christian world? The heat will be daunting.
My intention was to share the article on Facebook with a few thoughts on love. A few thoughts became a memoir as my hands shook and my heart raced. There was more to say. There was a story to tell. And I found myself 'coming out.' Coming out about what?
I am not a born again Christian and probably haven't been for a long time.
It was bound to happen at some point. Like most 'outings,' the people closest to me have seen this spiritual pilgrimage ten fold. It's been a 36 year journey so I personally don't feel that I've been living any lies. But when you haven't seen your Christian college friends in fifteen years, or your mom and dad live on the opposite coast, you find ways to dumb down your beliefs on the phone to keep the waters calm. So to them, today may very well feel like riptide. While I'm certainly not looking to white water raft anytime, I do feel the need to 'do me' and be really forthcoming about my spirituality.
Why? I think love is the greatest discussion we can have as human beings and I have to believe that there are others out there with the same desire. And most importantly, I want to be a part of the greater shift that says yes to inclusion rather than exclusivity. To say it out loud means everything. We're a butchered nation. One piece of meat put on the chopping block and with a bloody THWACK, we become two over and over. Christians vs. Non-Christians, Democrats vs. Republicans, Team Caitlin vs. Team Jenner vs. Team I Hate All Kardashians vs. Team Kardashians Are People Too! From all sides, we rage in our righteousness. We keep cutting people out, defriending, unwelcoming anyone that is different until we feel utterly alone. (But hey, at least we're right!) My 'coming out' is about love and the largest love buffet known to man. In fact, the day I walked away from Christianity was the day I felt truly saved.
But before I go all new age hippy and shit...
I was 'saved' when I was four years old. I went to church every Sunday, was involved in youthgroup throughout highschool. I was an R.A. at a Christian college, captain of the hockey team, a part of the homeless ministry in downtown Boston. I went to praise services and jammed out to worship music. Nichole Nordeman, DC Talk, The Road to One Day were all my regular jams. My point is, there was no Christian Shasta here. I was the Real Thing. I was invested and it was passionate and sincere. I could have been your daughter, sister or best friend in college. I was SAVED.
While I've had questions my whole life, I gave myself more freedom to think about them in college. I felt so constantly unworthy every moment of the day and never good enough that I oftentimes felt unworthy to even pray to God. Sinceriously. With all this in mind, I had a difficult time believing an 80 year old fasting monk on the other side of the world, way more sincere than I, was going to hell just because he was a Buddhist. I would never dared have said or believed that I was God and would have made that call for Christ on who to damn... BUT... the catch 22 is that as a Christian, if someone doesn't believe in the scriptures that Jesus Christ died and rose again for your sins? They're going to hell. It's right there in the black and white. You don't say it, of course. That would make you God. But as a Christian, you at least hafta kinda believe it. It's part of the doctrine. From a Christian perspective, it's not judgment, it's just truth. God's infallible truth.
But as the years passed, thinking about the idea of saving, seemed awfully self righteous. You were taught to be an example, be joyful always, so that others might be saved. If I'm saved and you're not, I'm right and you're wrong every time. It feels good to have an answer but it does not feel good to be better/higher/more righteous (?) than anyone else. How could a loving God want this? Did Christ really intend this?
You begin to ask very real questions and you take a look at your life, the world & its various hateful political spectrums, history, etc.? It says so much. In most cases, we forced religion. It is fear based. Keep the masses in line. And then as a Christian you're raised to believe you're at war and you're being attacked. In America! In our schools! There are gay people marrying! This mentality to me, even as a Christian, had always been a bit...off. China, for one, is a scary place to be a Christian. America, however? I've been to countless church potlucks without a single beheading. There is no war. No need for an army. Single people are still getting married and children are still going to Bible camp without a single protest. But yes... let's continue to look for Sirius Black when we should be looking for Voldemort. (Harry Potter reference! Yay!!!)
When you grow up with loving, wonderful parents you don't realize it. I felt super loved & supported. I was taught to be kind and loving to everyone-- I am grateful for that. I made smart choices growing up, I didn't have any babies at the prom. That's all very positive, yes! But as I graduated college and spent the next eight years in Los Angeles, I didn't view Christianity through such rose colored glasses. I was an adult. I struggled with this. (Sorry, no blaming L.A.! They have Christians, too!)
You're told "God works in mysterious ways" and "It's not for us to know" but that "It's good to question" and "Get real with God." Let me tell you, questioning is great to other Christians... IF... you still decide to be a Christian that believes Christ is the one way afterwards. That is when it is okay to question. If you are tormented & praying and in despair & crying out to God and decide to walk away? Then you've been deceived by Satan. He got a foothold and now you've gone down a different path. You become a little scary. (Hide yo wife! Hide yo keeds!) The fascinating thing to me is that I chose to walk away from Christianity because of love. It didn't feel right in my HEART. More than I have ever believed anything... God's hand was in it. And I am so utterly grateful.
Probably like Moses, I waited til I was 258 years old to lose my virginity. I kid about it but the decision was like pulling teeth. I talked to friends and prayed about it. It was the one thing left in my life that kept me clinging to Christianity. It was the game changer. I was waiting for my life to begin, waiting for God to bring the one, change my life, change me, change him, make me successful, make me lose weight, waiting for everything... So much waiting. Sex was probably the first choice I personally made for myself. I did it! I made a choice! (Yay me!) And I liiiiiiiked it. And I didn't get zapped! In fact, I still felt God's presence in my life in a very real way. I didn't feel unworthy or in despair about it. How was that possible? I was living in sin. It blew the doors off what I believe about God. And suddenly, my life changed for the better because I began making very powerful, fearless and faithful choices. My heart was bursting at the seams and my thoughts began to change:
Maybe God is unconditionally loving and all inclusive.
Maybe God believes that we are powerful because we were created to be.
Maybe God wants us to be fearless
Maybe God only sees us as whole and complete. No matter what. All of the time.
Maybe God wants us to make choices that best serve us. Maybe these choices create less judgment because there is no right & wrong. Maybe everyone in front of us, the best & the worst, is a reflection of ourselves-- not to damn or celebrate, to work on seeing the similarity. To be. To be together.
Maybe there is no black and white. Maybe gray is the present and it is a fiery and faithful place.
Maybe truth is in everything. The trees, the rivers, the pews, the dance, music, art, fire, books, chanting, fairies, song, the movie Tremors...
So what do I believe now?
I can confidently and passionately say outside of LOVE? I DON'T KNOW.
And that is why I trust it and cling to it. I don't want the answers. You can have them. I just want to experience God and do my best to love people. Sorry, mom and dad, you raised a loving kid. It's your fault! I am well aware this is one person's perspective of being born again and how I heard & felt it. Sometimes I find myself bitter & resentful toward that upbringing and that's not loving either. I get cranky, moody, tired, blah, whatever just because I'm human, too. So know I have nothing to sell here and I ain't preaching perfection either, people! I'm as human as anybody. I know a lot of beautiful and sincere Christians that find a life in Christ freeing and that have had wonderful experiences. I did, too! Absolutely. But at the end of the day, I just can't be a part of something that damns everything else. I choose to believe in a God that is bigger. Be the love you wish to see in the world. That's enough of a challenge for this girl!
There's much more to the story. I mean, it's 36 years we're talking and one blog post... but that's a pancake for a different waffle house. *cue Neverending Story theme*
WWDD (What Would Dumbledore Do),
Amanda J. Smith