faith · Religion

Making peace with my former faith

I frequently refer to myself as a BEC (bitter ex-Christian), but I’m finding that this definition of myself is starting to change. I’ve now put enough time and space between my current faith and my former one to gain some perspective, and I’ve found myself assessing the lessons I learned over the decades I spent practicing the various forms of Christianity. I’ve learned lessons, some good and some bad, and I thought I’d share some of them here. I’m starting chronologically from my earliest participation until my last, and the approximate dates of where I was involved is included for context. I’ve also included links to places and people because, well, it was fun to walk down memory lane as I wrote this.

Non-denominationalism (the first time – 1980s-mid-1990s)…

I grew up in a tiny non-denominational Christian church in southern Indiana. We went to that church because Mom was Baptist and Dad was Methodist, and they couldn’t agree on a denomination. (Eventually, Dad go so tired of the church we went to that he would drop us off and drive 1/4 mile up the road to the Methodist church and go there). The  good lesson I took from my childhood church that the community would come together. When someone was moving, men and pickup trucks from the church would show up at their door. When someone was in need, food and money would be collected and that family would receive the care of the community. My own family came home to a huge basket of food once when we were on hard times. That kindness has stuck with me.

The bad lesson I learned there – A religious community that is independent, without structure or part of a larger organization, is prone to corruption and a rudderless appearance. Theological interpretation is at the will of the pastor standing at the pulpit, and what you’re taught might not be accurate or even make sense. This type of upbringing is why my mom still holds certain beliefs that I find hard to reconcile. She was raised in a church that taught those things and, therefore, they are truth. Even if they aren’t.

United Methodism (the first time – 2001-2004)…

I stepped inside St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana right after the events of September 11th. Like a lot of people, I was looking for that undefinable “something,” and I was hoping to find it within those doors. And I did. Very much so.

I attended a service called “Later at St. Luke’s,” which took place on Sunday evenings at 6pm in main sanctuary. The pastor was Rev. Dr. Carolyn Scanlan-Holmes (she’s earned a doctorate and gotten married to a fellow Methodist pastor since I knew her) who was and is a visionary in terms of energizing worship services. Carolyn was (she still is, but I haven’t seen her in years, obviously) a talented musician, and she blew me away with her ability to connect modern music and Christian music into this all-encompassing experience. I lost count of the times I left there in tears, moved by the music, and full of hope as I went into my new week. Choosing St. Luke’s was the first time that I had made an individual, adult choice on where I was going to attend services. In terms of my adult spiritual journey, it was my first step made without familial influence. The senior pastor at the time was Dr. Kent Millard, and he, too, was blessed with the ability to bring the bible to life and transform each service into an experience. St. Luke’s was and still is a beacon of goodness in the world.

Bad lesson? Ha! Are you kidding? I still cherish the memories I have from this point in my life.

Catholicism (2005-2010)

Roman Catholicism taught me the beauty of tradition and ritual that sticks with me to this day. I married a Catholic who told me, in no uncertain terms, that if we had kids, he wanted them raised Catholic, too. I was open to that so I decided that I would convert. Prior to my conversion to Catholicism, which was completed at Easter Vigil 2006 at Our Lady of Lourdes in Louisville, Kentucky, religious tradition and rituals didn’t resonate with me. Sure, I practiced communion, which was done either weekly or monthly depending on the denomination, but that was the extent of ritual/tradition to which I had exposure. Catholicism, though, is all about tradition and ritual. It is the religious service that I have found to be most similar to Judaism in the amount of prayers that are repetitive, said day after day and week after week, until everyone knows them and doesn’t need to reference a prayer book for the words. (Methodism does this to a lighter degree, as well.) As I sit here typing this, I am assaulted with the scent memory of the chlorinated baptismal pool that narrowed into a beautiful stream at the back of the church, which gurgled softly during times of quiet prayer. I can also smell the incense, which was a permanent scent that lingered in the air at all times. It was in Catholicism that I became fascinated with monastic life (and I still am). I visited multiple monasteries and convents over the years (some prior to converting because some of my ancestors were Catholic and my dad was dedicated to family history), and my favorites were St. Meinrad Archabbey and Monastery Immaculate Conception, which are both Benedictine communities in southern Indiana. It was in those places where I first understood what it meant to be in holy places and practice contemplative prayer.

The bad – I learned that my values and Catholicism’s did not line up, and there was no way to make it so. I’m not going to re-hash my entire experience (it’s in the blog archives), but I found that Catholicism’s hyper-focus on anti-abortion measures and veneration of Mary were not things I wanted nor needed on my journey.

United Methodism (the second time 2010-2012)

After we made the decision to walk away from Catholicism and my husband said, “Tell me more about this Protestant stuff,” we ended up back at St. Luke’s. Work and life had taken us back up to Indianapolis from Louisville, and Tim soon loved St. Luke’s as much as I did. We were devastated when Dr. Millard announced his retirement, but his replacement, Rev. Rob Fuquay, was just as brilliant.

The bad lesson – Religious community is what you make of it. If you don’t put yourself out there and get involved, It’s easy to get lost in a large religious community and feel like you aren’t valued. We attended the Sunday morning service at St. Luke’s for a couple of years and, as much as I loved it from a music and preaching perspective, there was no real sense of community. People in the pews around us ignored each other before the service started. There was very little sense of inclusion. I realize now that I owned part of that interaction, but at the time, I remember feeling like no one cared.

Non-denominationalism (the second time – 2013)

There are no good lessons from this experience, only bad. This was a bad, bad experience. We couldn’t go to St. Luke’s Sunday morning services anymore because I was now working night shift and spent my mornings/early afternoons asleep, so we wanted a Saturday evening service we could attend. We found one at a large church in a suburb north of Indianapolis. We were impressed at first – the production value was top-notch, but every service started with the pastors standing up on the stage (in jeans!!!) basically begging for money. I’ll never forget the quote that actually made us stand up and walk out, never to come back. “There might be someone sitting in the audience that knows we’re only $10k away from paying off our building’s mortgage and is ready to write us that check.” We. were. DONE.

The lesson (which we learned again later, too) – There is much disingenuousness in religion, and that  some leaders do a terrible job at hiding their end-game. Grifters in the name of religion is very real and, unfortunately, common.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (2012-2013ish)…

I never joined and became LDS, but as I’ve discussed on this blog over the years, I’ve found a lot of meaning within LDS teachings. Listening to old General Conference talks got me through a very difficult time in my life, and I still owe a lot to the words of President Monson, President Eyring, President Uchtdoft, Elder Holland, and other members of LDS’s top leadership because their words, at that period of my life, kept me from giving into the darkness threatening to envelop me. I found kernels of truth in every talk I listened to, and those kernels created a safety net for me. Due to that (and due to the LDS church’s focus on preparedness and food storage, which I closely follow), I will always have a soft spot for the LDS church.

The lesson I learned – I had to be true to myself. Even though LDS made me “feel good,” to become a member, I had to not only believe the New Testament but the contents of the Book of Mormon, as well. I read the Book of Mormon, but at the end of it all, I couldn’t do it. I desperately craved what I thought I’d find as a member of the LDS church, but I couldn’t pretend that I believed all the “extra” stuff when I was already struggling with the foundations of Christianity.

Church of the Brethren (Anabaptist) (2014)…

I don’t have a lot of positives to say about this experience. After we moved to Washington state, we wanted to find a church home. I was trying to find something “different” because I just never felt like I belonged anywhere. Due to my interest in the Amish and Mennonites, I wanted to look into some of the more “modern” anabaptist communities, and I found a Church of the Brethren that fit the bill. Suffice it to say, we lasted six months before we couldn’t do it anymore. Every meeting or invitation to meet with someone in a leadership position felt disingenuous – on my part and on theirs. I just wanted to fit in, and they wanted… something (money for the church, for us to take on volunteer leadership positions, etc.) We finally realized that we couldn’t do it anymore, and we quit. That was our last involvement with any Christian church at all. I joke that this church is what “broke” us for Christianity, but it’s not really a joke…

The lesson I learned – do not be taken advantage of, and do not commit to things when that small voice in your head is screaming at you not to do it.

So that’s it… that’s an overview of the experiences I’ve had and a few lessons I learned prior to beginning my conversion to Judaism in 2015. I’ve enjoyed reflecting and taking a trip down memory lane via the internet, and my heart and soul feel better at the idea of making peace with my former faith. I am an insanely anxious person by nature, and I think a lot of my anxiousness has to do with all the baggage I carry on any given day. So consider this blog entry a stop on my life’s travel – I’m hoping that, by letting go of my BEC moniker, I’m dropping off a lot of baggage before continuing on my journey.

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