On near loss of faith, church & becoming Presbyterian...

Friday, July 17, 2015

It wasn't too long ago I seriously considered becoming an atheist. I even tried on the label for awhile but I couldn't quite figure out how to do it. How could I leave the faith I'd know most of my adult life behind me?  I knew something had to change or else I would end up not just a regular ol' atheist but one of the really nasty ones on the internet trolling and badmouthing any talk of God.  Yeah it was that bad. 

And here I am a few months later on the verge of becoming a member in the Presbyterian church. I'm still not entirely sure how it happened. When I think back to my past church experiences I'm overcome with all the beautiful people who have walked with me on this faith journey and all the hard and funny lessons I've had to learn.  I started visiting churches my senior year of high school, obsessed with the idea of belonging to a group, something bigger than myself. Growing up without having gone to church will do that for you I guess. I visited every church in town except the Baptist.  I still have a grudge against them but that's another story.  

When I was in the Air Force I fell in love with not only the Catholic faith but also the people.  As a chaplain's assistant, they welcomed me to their events and made me feel like family. They invited me into their homes for Christmas, bought me presents and fed me well. I read about saints and bought a rosary.  I thought I'd become Catholic and I tried it on for awhile.  While I still love the church and the Pope it just didn't fit at the time, I was too curious to  call myself any one thing. I still have visions of being a nun in my old age or following in the footsteps of Dorothy Day so I'm not ruling Catholicism out at this point.

In a spur of the moment decision, which most of my most important life decisions have been, I got baptized at  a mega church in Las Vegas shortly after becoming a mother at the age of 21.

In Texas as a newly baptized, high on Jesus Christian we started attending a seemingly good fit for us non-denominational church.  About a year into it things started getting weird when they started talking more and more about money.  Sermons started to consist of how to invest money, guilt ridden sermons about tithing and my personal favorite a guy no joke named Halliburton who found a meteorite in his yard and thanked the Lord for the amount he'd be able to sell it for.  I'll never forget one Sunday morning a lady gave her testimony of how she had prayed so hard and God had given her a brand new mini van. I sat there in my chair crying as she spoke, at the time David was a lowly Airmen and we could barely afford anything other that the immediate needs and I thought God doesn't love me like he loves that lady. 

Things got even weirder when we started marriage counseling with an older couple and after only a couple of sessions they said I needed to be "delivered" because I had a spirit of whoredom about me and soul ties that needed to be destroyed.  If you know me well, you know why accusing me of all people of having a spirit of whoredom is hilarious. I'm about as prudish as one can get.    The morning of my "deliverance" I called and told them I wasn't coming back ever. Around this time I read a book by Shane Claiborne  called "The Irresistible Revolution" that completely changed how I thought about church and the Christian faith.  We started going to a church right around the corner from our house called The Mission. From the moment we walked in I felt comfortable and I felt like I belonged.  The Mission wasn't one of those churches in the safety of the suburbs that goes into the "bad" areas to feed the less fortunate.  At The Mission they were part of our church, not just homeless but the drug addicted, former drug addicted, down and out, hurting, the lowest of the low, all were welcome.  As a member, I got to know these peoples names, their struggles and their pain. It changed me in a way in I will never recover from.

 I'll never forget one night Christian singer Brandon Heath gave a concert.  His song "Give me Your eyes" was playing heavily on the radio at the time. After the show as everyone was hanging out talking one of our regular homeless attendees Mary started screaming and freaking out about having to go back on the streets that night, about being raped and beaten.  Everyone looked thoroughly freaked out including Brandon, he averted his eyes away from her, unsure of how to act.  I hugged Mary as she cried and got her to finally calm down.  That little encounter always bothered me and I've never liked that guy since.  Anyway, The Mission taught me a lot about love and about what a church can look like if its willing to stop being afraid.  It wasn't perfect by any means but I've never been to another church quite like it before. It will always hold a special place in my heart.

So fresh off of that experience we left for Italy and I can say now looking back  I was pretty radical in some of my beliefs and was leaning strongly towards anarchism. If I'd had my way we would have separated from the military and joined a monastic community.  I could easily love a homeless person with all my heart but I had a chip on my shoulder for people who voted a different way, or had varying opinions on Jesus or the bible than me.  In Italy there were only a few choices for English speaking churches, Baptist or Pentecostal.  We chose a Pentecostal church where pretty much everyone was white, from Oklahoma and super Republican.  Oh and they spoke in tongues. I thought good one God.  But, looking back it was where we were supposed to be and I grew to love everyone there as my family.  After my oldest Selah was hit by a car and almost died there was no one else on earth I wanted beside me except my Republican, Southern, speaking in tongues pastor.  

Then after we moved to Virginia still reeling from the pain and trauma from Selah's near death we jumped right in to a church.  I loved the people but I never felt like I fit in. I never knew the right things to say. I tried to bite my tongue every time I overheard someone saying how much they hated Obama or how evil gays were. I was going through the motions trying to stay afloat in my faith. I volunteered so I would have an excuse to go.  When Paloma first started having seizures my faith was strong, just as it was with Selah's accident, I drew strength from reading the bible and praying. But Selah was healed, Paloma wasn't, and soon I just stopped praying all together. What was the point?  After months of not sleeping, not praying and feeling numb I just decided when I knew we would be moving to Utah that it was a good time to stop going to church.  There would be no calls saying, where are you guys, haven't seen you in awhile. It would be a clean escape, or so I thought.  I tried to think like an Atheist for awhile but it felt strange and I wasn't quite sure how to do it.  I couldn't stop thinking about God.

 I'd had in the back of my mind for years to check out the Presbyterian church.  My imaginary bff Anne Lamott just so happens to be Presbyterian so I thought if this church can except her maybe it can accept me as well.   I found Trinity one day while googling churches and the front page said something about welcoming poetry lovers,beatniks, a place where all were welcome and I was sold.  My pastor is lovely. I could tell from the moment I met her she was the real deal, nothing fake with her.  Her sermons are thoughtful and have renewed something in me I feared was dead. I feel safe in this church. I can be my weird self and no one cares.  I don't fear saying the wrong thing or being the wrong person. 

I'm slowly getting used to this new way of doing church. The hymns are growing on me. At first looking people in the eye and saying peace of Christ freaked me out, but now I see the beauty of it and look forward to it. This church doesn't look exactly how I imagined my ideal church looking.  But more and more this perfect church I've dreamed of  is becoming just and idea and not a reason to keep searching.  I'm ready to plant my feet and help it grow. As messed up as some of the churches I've belonged to have been I'm thankful for the growth and love I've received in all of them. Maybe I won't be Presbyterian forever.  Maybe I'll go back to being pentecostal, just kidding,  but I know God has been with me in all churches and has always led me where I'm supposed to be and this church is no exception.

In every church He has always surrounded  me with people who love me unconditionally, who have pushed me to go deeper, who have walked me off the cliff of non belief, who've sat with me in hospital rooms where I thought my child was going to die.  At Trinity people squeeze my hand and tell me they love me. I know they mean it.

I'm so thankful I've found a place to grow again. I'm convinced I would make a terrible athiest. I'm hoping I make a damn good Presbyterian. 

1 comment:

  1. Lindsay, I've always admired your open honesty and learning heart. It's an honor to read your faith journey and see how God has placed you in such diverse circumstances but has preserved you through it all. I am so glad you have found a place where you are fed and can love on others at your church :) Blessingns to you and your family!