I used to carry a creed in my pocket, a bullet set of beliefs that I lived by. I knew my Bible (the sign of a well worn bible is the sign of a well fed soul…), I could pray anybody under the table as if public prayer was a drinking game. I taught Sunday school, served in missions in a foreign country, stopped cussing, drinking and smoking AND wore oversized shirts to hide my curves so as not to stumble my brothers into lustful thoughts.
Oh yeah, I was a rockstar good Christian woman. Seriously.
It is a long story, not the fairy tale or Guidepost magazine kind of story, of how I began slipping down the slippery slope into a place that the media likes to dub, The Dones.
The Dones are formerly religious people (like me) who are Done with organized, institutional faith. We are done with Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. I once had a job where I became a source of workplace gossip when I managed to get Sundays off as a new hire, that’s how important the Sunday morning gig was to me. (When I decided I was done with church, my boss was actually a little concerned when I informed her I was now available to work Sunday mornings. “Everything ok?” she asked. I’m good, I reassured her. “I used to have something I was a part of on Sunday mornings, but now I am not a part of it anymore.”)
It felt kinda like a break-up.
That break-up story is another blog post, how church broke my heart over and over again until I finally wised up and got out of the dysfunctional relationship it had become.
I have not been to church in almost six years.
Leaving church did not mean I left the Faith.
However, once I was out of the cage and my faith was free to roam the wildlands of uncertainty, my faith started to shapeshift. For starters, I lost my creed out there in the elements. A gust of wind blew up on me and shredded my list of beliefs right out of my hands. I became mapless. And once mapless, I was forced to explore other vistas that were off the map. I became free from what author Jim Henderson aptly calls, beliefism.
Fun fact: Merriam-Webster dictionary declared -ism to be the word of the year last year.
I have been living off the faith grid ever since.
Christianity for me became stifling. It was like being a settler in a small valley and insisting that there is nothing to be gained by exploring other settlements out there beyond the yonder. In the movie, The Village, the villagers are taught to stay within the confines of their village or else the lurking monsters nearby will attack them. If they are obedient, the monsters will leave them alone. (spoiler alert : there are no monsters)
You can imagine how much that film resonated with me as I lost my Christian creed.
And yet, despite being a heretic who has betrayed her Christian heritage, there remains in me a firm residue of faith and respect for the Christian tradition and those who adhere to her creeds. Just because me and Jesus would not be matched up on E-Harmony as soul mates doesn’t mean I am not interested. Jesus still loves me this I know, and I love him back.
No matter what dogmas and doctrines have collapsed in my beliefs structure, I have a rich heritage from my years as a bible-thumping-demon-stomping-spirit-filled-believer. I still speak the language fluently. I was getting a tattoo last year and during our conversation the tattoo artist began complaining how his born-again sister was driving him and the rest of the family crazy. “She will leave if we as much open up a beer,” he lamented of his devout Christian sibling.
I helped him understand that she was compelled by her Christian conscience and that once upon a time I would have done the exact same thing. “Respect her conscience,” I offered, “She is living by the conviction of her faith. Respect it.” I felt like a cross-cultural guide helping him interpret the weird customs his sister engaged with. Evangelicalism was a mystery to him. It is not to me, and never will be. I was a rockstar evangelical woman for years upon years. I know the lingo, the dress code and the rules of conduct. I sometimes feel haunted by my former evangelical self, like when I order a cocktail in a pub. The ghost of church-past floats in accusing me of being a backslider.
I’ll drink to that.
Today, if my former Christian self were to meet my current self, she would be concerned for my soul. She would see that my current state of living does not match the checklist. I have completely abandoned some beliefs (like the doctrine of hell…. ugh…. never did like that one at all. Was a RELIEF to be done with it!) while other beliefs remain in a state of flux in the gray. Was Jesus the Unique and Only Son of God incarnate?
I used to say Yes without hesitation.
Now I’m not so sure what to think about Jesus and divinity, though I remain a fan of his parables and messages (forgive others, love one another, turn the other cheek, be a Good Samaritan). It doesn’t come up so much anymore when I meet people, an examination of faith…. but when it does, when I am asked point blank if I am a Christian, I reply, “I live my life the best I can according to the teachings of Jesus.”
Yes, that’s good, but Are you a Christian? What do you believe about Jesus?
Devout Christians would charge that I am not a Christian. My former devout evangelical self would agree. But in the world of spirituality (I’m not religious, I’m spiritual) I am considered pretty Jesus-y. I’m the woman who can drop F bombs all day long, but still will not use Christ’s name in vain or damn someone in the name of God. I do not flinch as some do when Jesus is spoken of and his words quoted. I myself can still repeat Jesus’ words rather eloquently.
When I am faced with major life decisions, sheesh, even daily life decisions, I still pray for guidance and wisdom. I may have lost my map, but I still have my compass.
About three years ago I was invited to a Faith writer’s conference, even though I am clearly not a Christian writer .
I went anyway since I would know a few people there, people I enjoy and people who enjoy writing like I do. I looked forward to fresh inspiration about being a writer, and I was not disappointed. I still remember fragments from the talk one writer gave about tell The Story, not just the facts…. but when the worship band of young, shiny faced collegiates kicked into gear, something in me tensed up to the point that I quietly left the room and lingered for the next 20 minutes in the lobby. I like music, I really like LIVE music, so I was caught off guard why the onset of Christian praise music got such a rile out of me.
Was it the devil ? :/
I didn’t psychoanalyze it too closely, but my best guess as to why the music affected me that way is because music is about emotion. The dysfunctional relationship I ended with institutional Christianity came flooding back when the praise band fired up their first chords. It was like having an old boyfriend try to make out with me. Not gonna happen.
So… I am not a Christian, and yet I try my best to live my life according to the teachings of Jesus as I understand them. I do not read the Bible anymore. I do not go to church. I no longer believe you are going to hell if you don’t incite the right words to save your heathen soul. I am firmly comfortable living off the grid without a map in the wilderness of I-Don’t-Know-Anything-Anymore.
I like Oprah and sometimes tune into her Super Soul broadcasts online. I read spiritual books written by people who do not mention Jesus or the bible one single time in their pages. I use a personal tarot deck for inspiration and to tap into inner wisdom … oh yeah, I am now a HUGE BELIEVER that we each possess the wisdom we need for our lives if we just pay attention and Listen.
And that is so very unchristian because as a church-abiding Christian I was taught that the heart is especially wicked and cannot be trusted, so therefore my wisdom and intuition are not to be trusted. I cannot begin to tell you the journey it has been to establish trust in my own divinely inspired inner guidance system. Trusting my higher self is rebellion against the Christendom that used to own my heart, mind, soul and body.
But I am not a Christian anymore. Well sort of. Kind of. But maybe really not.
***There is soooo much more to say about this. It is clear to me that I still have things I’d love to talk about in regard to being Done with institutionalized faith. I would really love to hear your thoughts on this one. Are you a Done, too, or do you want to save my soul when you read this? Back in the day I would have judged this blogpost as something written by a bitter, deceived woman. It is true I am scarred up from my years of church devotion, but bitter, no. Deceived? Maybe.
I’d love to hear your thoughts.