All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
I don’t have anything new, or particularly original to say regarding doctrine, fundamentalism, or religious practice. What I do have is a burning desire to get this monkey off my back. For the Christian religion, this is the season of recognizing God’s sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, for the purpose of knocking out sin once and for all, thus providing a means of salvation for all humanity. Like many, I am continuing to “work out my salvation with fear and trembling.”
I am writing this as part of that effort – sometimes seeing my own words on a page helps me make more sense of the process.
I am posting it in case my experience adds to the understanding of the mindset of a subset of Christians, or allows someone to know that they are not alone in their search.
I am posting it in three parts, just to keep the length a little more sane. And, not to spoil the ending, but I’m doing pretty well now, thanks.
This is Part I.Part II is available here, for the middleground.
My relationship to God, and to the Church, is complicated at best, conflicted at worst. On my good days, I recognize some kind of reconciliation between my reality then and my reality now – the beginning of healing, if you will. On my bad days I contemplate vandalism and Molotov cocktails.
Years before I actually broke with the church, I had a dream: Under cover of darkness, I snuck into our familiar sanctuary and painted obscenities on the walls and the altar in bold black strokes; the next morning, I stood with the entire church staring at the damage in grief-filled wonderment. I couldn’t believe they didn’t know I had done it. I was simultaneously elated at the reaction my work had caused, and grieving with them. I awoke in a cold sweat.
There was an incomparable sweetness to absolute belief, and to worship among fellow believers. There was also a strong undercurrent of fear that colored every aspect of our lives as Christians. The members of our church were good people, loving parents, and came from a cross-section of the community. They were also true believers, susceptible to some crazy doctrines which swept through our congregation like a tornado. Like any community which experiences a tornado, our people cleaned up the debris and rebuilt, continuing life as if nothing had happened.This is not a story of abuse survived. This is not a nostalgia piece. I hesitate to even talk about this because it seems totally weak by comparison to real problems in the world, and because I sometimes think I must be the biggest idiot on the planet. Aspects of what I was taught are untenable to my rational mind, yet they have a seemingly unassailable hold. It is, by turns, excruciating and exquisite. My descriptions of this will not do any justice to the experience. And so I am writing, or trying to, as if explaining it to you might explain it to me. It’s a shorthand version of the knot that leaves me tangled.
Dad was an only child, a teacher by day, a pianist by night – a truly great guy, loved by his students, respected by area musicians. He was and is known as one of the best piano players in Northern Michigan, especially among jazz aficionados. In between, he taught piano lessons. He was and is a great Dad – easy going, and terrible at spanking. When he got a gig in Detroit that was supposed to lead to the big time, he and I clung together in the big red overstuffed chair and bawled because he’d be 4 hours away all week, and we’d only see him on Sundays. He drank a lot, but was an amiable drunk – he got lost on the way home one night, and talked someone into giving him directions – the officer who’d pulled him over.
Mom was the youngest of 7 children, and the only one in her family without a college education. College went on hold when she was pregnant with the little Owl, and she married Dad instead. My paternal Grandma says that Mom saved Dad’s life when I was about 6 months old; he had a gig in West Virginia, and was drinking himself into a stupor every night, until Mom (with a tiny Owl in held tightly to her chest) flew out there to stay with him. By the early 70’s Mom had three children under the age of 7, and a truly good, but hopelessly clueless husband. She was accustomed to his drinking, but never entirely comfortable with it – drinking was not part of her world in any discernable way until she met Dad. She cried a lot when she thought I was asleep.
So when our neighbors became Born Again – ecstatically so – I think the gospel became the flame to Mom’s inner moth. She was over-loaded, worried all the time, and felt like a failure. Christ asked her, nay commanded her, to cast all her burdens upon Him. Christ told her she was safe, within the realm of his divine love. Christ said that she was worthy, not by works, but by faith. Mom used Dad’s inner-moth to overcome his objections - she persuaded him to accompany her to a Christian concert where an extremely talented pianist/vocalist/evangelist was performing. That night, overwhelmed with the music and the spirit, Dad gave his heart to Christ.
When Mom announced it the next day, I had never seen her look happier – she was radiant. And thus was drawn the little Owl. Dad wasn’t drinking, which made Mom happy, and whatever made Mom happy had to be pretty serious stuff. I wanted it. I gave my heart to Jesus.