Monday, June 23, 2014

Where Have You BEEN? (Part 2)


This is a journal cover I made not that long ago. I thought it was really hilarious. It still makes me smile in kind of a perverse way, the idea that one's journal is filled with fibs about one's holiness, but it also reminds me of what I used to think about prayer and religion in general.

At some point very early in life I started to feel really lost, and was wary of most everyone, and I had this recurring nightmare:

That's basically how I felt about many Christians for most of my life. Either they were monsters, or they were weak, brain dead victims.  When I was a kid I didn't understand it, and I saw so much contradiction, hypocrisy, and FEAR... I wanted perfection out of my role models and didn't understand that people were works in progress.

In the end I concluded that if I couldn't make sense out of it, there's no way these other people could, either. Did they just want eternal life to be real? Was that enough to believe?

I had written all Christians off as liars who couldn't possibly be buying this magic act. I wanted just ONE of them to level with me and tell me it was all nonsense and no one knew what they were talking about or believed any of it. It was like they had made a pact of silence. Yes, the dark and paranoid conspiracy theories ran rampant.

Or maybe... Maybe they really DID believe... And maybe they really DID understand... Could it be?


On New Year's Eve in 2001, my steady boyfriend Jason was in a funk. He didn't like NYE and didn't know why we had to celebrate it. He called it a day just like any other day.

Flippantly, I said, "Well, so is Christmas, but you didn't hear me bitching about it!"

I couldn't figure out why, for the next two hours, he didn't want to talk to me. I was seriously freaking out. I ran through the conversation over and over, failing to see where it went wrong. Finally, he said, "When you say things like that, it really hurts, because... I'M A CHRISTIAN."

Blinkblink. I could not believe it. We'd been dating for SIX MONTHS. And I had no idea. I never would have guessed he had any attachments to religion or the notion of Santa Claus in the sky. Immediately, I was defensive. I felt judged.

"Well, just because I'm not a Christian, doesn't mean I'm not a good person! I have morals, I don't need God for that!"

I don't remember everything that was said, but I remember one thing pretty vividly. Jason asked how or if I could ever want to marry him (since I was a nonbeliever). It was then that I realized it wasn't he who was doing the judging, it was me. I was judging and persecuting all Christians, when I had thought it was the other way around. I had made him feel embarrassed, ashamed, unwelcome, stupid. I had hurt him, and I decided I never wanted to do that to anyone again because of their faith. I felt so ashamed at being the kind of person who made him want to hide his feelings.

Suddenly he went from being this cocky young professional with all his ducks in a row, to a man who admitted to loving God? Somehow it made me love him more - especially, that someone like him could love someone like ME.

Fast forward. We got married. We had babies. We had sickness. We had existential crisis. We had family death. Life happened every day. And there was just something...bugging me. I started asking around. What does it for you. Community. Faith. Church. Volunteering. Family. Giving. Making a difference. What makes you tick. What makes you believe one thing or another. What is this magical faith thing. What makes you happy. And I kept thinking back to that pastor I argued with at my daughter's preschool and wondering how HE would stand up to my questions. 

 I ended up emailing him, and we went out for coffee, and I bombarded him with all my questions, figuring that I had nothing to lose since I didn't really care what he thought of me, he wasn't my pastor. Maybe he would be offended, defensive, ruffled, even angry. Nope. He asked questions, too, was empathetic, laughed at my crass jokes, admitted it when he didn't have the answers. He was super careful because if there was any hint of pressure I would run for the hills, but said he was curious about what my thoughts on the Gospels would be. TRICKY, I know. The next thing I knew I was tearing through all the different Bibles we had wondering which translation was best, wishing I knew Greek and Hebrew, reading each chapter like this (see above) and scribbling furiously in the margins.  

I would email my unedited responses to each book of the Bible and the discussions that followed were priceless. Sometimes they had to carry over into coffee, and sometimes coffee was just coffee.

As I came to learn, "Faith comes from hearing the message," and what was once a pulse so faint it couldn't be heard was growing louder. A faith I thought was dead was growing, slowly, and I didn't quite know what to do about it or what to make of it. I struggled as I judged myself, and thought about "coming out of the closet" as a Christian to MY friends as being like a thousand times harder than it ever was to introduce my family to my girlfriend years ago. It would be especially hard for my husband, who had swung the other way and was now a staunch atheist.

Eventually I couldn't deny it to myself or to my loved ones any longer.

I was baptized. I took the Bible Information Class. I was confirmed. It's been a happy and kind of a lonely thing, for me, because I know how people feel about it, I know how I would have felt about it. That my friend or family member has gone insane, or was no longer fun, or reasonable, name it. And on that note, I am truly sorry for having been so mean-spirited and judgmental in the past.

Sometimes I do some design stuff that's uh, super religious. SOooOOooo, that's another thing I've been up to in the last few years. 


Anonymous said...

Hi, Hilary! I've wondered where you've been on this journey; I remember your blog discussions about the early days of the biblical investigations.

You make me think of a book I read many years ago, a classic called "The Christian Agnostic." It was influential for me. Basically, it's okay to be intelligent, to wonder about things and ask questions, and to integrate the valuable ideas in other beliefs--yet to consider yourself a Christian at the same time. Learning about Jesus's life, and choosing to follow what he *really* taught.

That book is probably why I am comfortable loving the SETI project *and* a good sermon; Cosmos and Christmas; astrophysics and rousing hymns.

--Sarah P.

Anonymous said...

This really brightened my day. It's a great perspective on a complicated issue. Thanks for your honesty. I'm looking forward to reading more.


Makalah said...

I recognize that church! I did K-8 at that school!

Makalah / xmorningxrosex