Why has it taken this long?
And by that I don't mean 16 days. I mean, why has it taken me a Christian upbringing; a baptism; a confirmation; a very devout sister and several readings of the New Testament to finally come to this glaringly obvious conclusion?
Simply put: People.
People ruined Christianity for me. But, perhaps ironically, it's also people who have allowed me to discover the true joy of the religion. Let me explain.
Growing up, church was a chore. I didn't like it and never ever wanted to go. Once there, I always had a decent time, but not because of religious experiences or devout people. Rather, I liked it because I had a few friends in my Sunday school classes. As I grew up, the realities of southern Christianity started to reveal themselves to me. More times than not, my interactions with southern Christians were not particularly rewarding. They seemed to care about being seen at church rather than developing their relationship with the Lord. For them, church was no different than going to Steeplechase. It was time to dress and act the part. It was --for lack of a better word-- a social event.
Just look at those hats. These girls spent big bucks acting and dressing the part of Steeplechase. They are also the people who packed the pews on Sunday morning with their finest and newest threads. Honestly though, what's the big deal? Judging their spiritual connection to God was wrong, but I did it. Also, not all southern Christians are like that. Still, my experience was what it was. My Nashville church was rich, white and about as stereotypically waspy as one could imagine. We are all students of our surroundings and this is what I was offered. My cynism might have started there, but it certainly didn't stop there.
My private high school describes itself like this:
Everyday I was required to attend "Chapel". There, we were forced to partake in group prayers and listen to testimonials of how Christ reshaped my classmates' lost teenage souls. I remember thinking to myself how weak those people were. Even the slightest bit of discomfort would force them to weep like repenting evangelists. The whole thing smacked of desperation and the desire to fit the mold of what a private Christian school student should be. At least, that's what I thought then and it really shouldn't come as much of a surprise to those who knew me. I prescribed to the "Tune in, turn on, drop out" lifestyle which essentially was an odd little religion unto itself.
Like every great religion of the past we seek to find the divinity within and to express this revelation in a life of glorification and the worship of God. These ancient goals we define in the metaphor of the present — turn on, tune in, drop out. -Timothy LearyIt's funny to read that now. We all get caught up when we "find something going on" and mine just happened to be this. By the time I got to college I had pretty much had exhausted all my "anti" energy. I didn't care anymore. It took the reelection of George W. Bush to get me going again which, of course, brought me to my next chapter of distrust and disgust of Christianity: the religious right.
During the Bush years, ultra-conservative Christianity was so infused with politics that even considering a serious investment in the religion meant that I had to deal with the ultra-conservative congregation. Even if that wasn't true, I believed it. 2008 only made it worse as the torch was passed to Sarah Palin and others of the same ilk. The American politicization of the religion made me --a relative outsider-- have a jaded opinion of the religion and its followers. The silent majority of Christians were lost in all the shouting. Their message of love, compassion and forgiveness was muffled. In short, I heard "God hates fags" rather than "God is love". I could have sought a deeper meaning and that was my loss for sure, but it was also the loss of the Church for allowing such ambassadors of the religion to take full control of the pulpit.
It wasn't until today that I allowed myself to see the true beauty of the religion and its followers. The love that they share with God might not be the best thing for me at this particular moment, but it's absolutely pure. They genuinely love each other. They love their fellow children of God and they love the non-believer. The love they loved and they love the hated. I can use some of that love and I know that my marriage could benefit from it as well. Unconditional love and compassion is what its all about. That's a message that works on every level of life.
God has that love for his children and I can have that love for the people in my life. No more will I judge people for being Christian. No more will I question their motives. Love is beautiful and pure and I think if more people (especially non-Christians) spent a little more time with the people and less time on the details or politics, then that love --His love-- can spread.
Time to let it in...or out.