I didn’t intend for Dear Oly to be a blog about Christianity, mostly because I don’t think I’m qualified to write about my faith because I doubt and I’m still figuring out the details. Nonetheless, I could not sleep last night until I typed out these words on my iPhone. I have no schedule for posting on this topic and I won’t post in chronological order. After all, our brains and hearts do not function in chronological order. I felt the urge to write this post last night so I simply wrote. Many of the attitudes I depict were bitter and prideful.
I have since repented of those thoughts. God has done a tremendous work in me.
I write in pursuit of God. The act of writing has always been my veritas, my search for truth. You won’t find giant smiles and sparkling handshakes here. First, I am neither a chipper nor an especially bubbly person, and, second, I am in many ways the prodigal daughter.
At the age of 18, I was sickened by what I interpreted as manipulative charismatic theology, an over-abundance of church politics mixed together with a sprinkling of unbiblical fundamentalism and what I interpreted as the manipulative attitudes of some Christians who I held in high esteem. I nearly checked out of Christianity altogether. I told my parents that I couldn’t possibly raise my future children in the kind of church environment in which I was raised and I meant every word that I said.
You might chalk this attitude up to teenage angst and you would be at least partially right. But whatever fun we make of teenagers, they are persons with souls and minds that analyze and weigh thoughts and emotions through the lenses of their limited experiences. The implications of poor theology played out even to the slightest degree, even by sincere Christians, makes lasting impressions – a harrowing thought now that I’m older and looking towards having my own kids someday.
I need not go into details about the specifics that I allowed to drive a wedge between myself and the Lord because the specifics are irrelevant.
My situation happens thousands of times a year in various denominations, in thousands of different churches. Perhaps some who fall away do so more quietly and without a fight, but many still fall.
Though I never stopped believing in God and the tenets of salvation through Christ alone, I could not reconcile them with Christianity or with church attendance. In short, I thought and worried about my faith in the darkest corners of my mind, but in the end, I simply gave up on being in real Christian community.
After nursing bitterness toward the church for two years, Nate and I sat in an evening chapel service when I was 20 years old. We sat there as a punishment for poor chapel attendance. In a twist of irony, the wandering Christian was forced by a Christian higher institution of learning to sit and watch fellow students put on a Christian show.
Though the goal of mandated chapel attendance was a better walk with Christ, the lights, the glamour, the demands for the “audience” to respond to the Holy Spirit in certain ways, and the blatant attempts to mimic a particular Christian music star alumnus only served to make me physically sick to my stomach. I look back and wonder why this was such a big deal to me. I know now that I cannot judge the hearts of others.
My reaction was probably in part to the bitterness I’d developed as a result of some of the more manipulative altar calls I had experienced. For whatever reason, I encountered that familiar sense of revulsion – it now came to me whenever I entered a church. The feeling reminded me of all of the hurtful and inconsistent practices of Christianity I’d seen played out, the ones I had recently rejected.
I reassured myself that I was no longer a part of all of this and sat back in amazement, watching the shiny people on stage do their thing. Inexplicably, tears started pouring down my face. I do not cry in public as a rule and I was mortified – I was acting like one of them – the church criers who let loose over any prompting, no matter how bizarre or lacking in biblical foundation that prompt may have been.
Nate sat next to me patiently and without judgment, not pressing me to talk or say what was wrong. He was my best friend and he knew. While I tried to think about school and coaching, and anything else, I did so to no avail as an unwanted thought kept popping into my consciousness.
“If you truly don’t care, if you really don’t think that living a Christian life is necessary, then why are you so noticeably upset whenever you are forced to sit and see Chistianity played out?”
“It’s the falsity of it all,” I said to myself. “I’m upset because of the falseness.”
“But do you have such a visceral reaction to other falsities? Do you feel such gut wrenching sadness each time you hear a false statement or an incorrect argument?”
“No. I know I do not. But that’s different. Those are arguments. This is religion, people claiming they represent God. That’s why it makes me sick.”
“But if there is no Christ and no salvation story, then why is what you experience worse or more sickening than any other? If Christianity is just a farce that makes people happy, then shouldn’t you be less upset about Christianity, than say a false political idea that leads to death and poverty?”
“Just give it a rest, brain, this isn’t debate and I can think whatever I want. I don’t owe anyone an explanation, not even myself.”
Before i knew it, the service was over and I proceeded, once again, to ignore the pestering thoughts. The Seattle air was cold as it hit my tear stained face. I tried not to think about it as I walked, lonely, back to my apartment.
End Part I
This story is not meant as a woe-is-the-state-of-the-modern-church article. I am not a post-modernist, the church is the Bride of Christ, and goodness knows the church has suffered enough incoherent philosophical jabs from twenty-something meta-philosophers wearing dark rimmed glasses and a pair of Toms.
I suppose the point of this post is to point out that there are young Christians who struggle enormously, both intellectually, and emotionally with poor childhood experiences with Christianity.
Some, like me, have returned to fully embrace Christ, others will die resenting Christ and His people.
We cannot change people’s minds nor can we save them. Yet, I urge us to take seriously our theology and the way it plays out for someone is always watching us.
We must listen and watch for signs of those struggling with their understanding of Christianity. We must not run from them because they doubt the beliefs we hold most dear. We must run to them and meet them where they are, with sincerity, compassion and truth.