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.

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Christian creeps

A few years ago, I was a really crappy friend to someone I’ll call Summer.  She and I met back when we were taking college classes at Indiana Tech and we became fast friends.  Even after I moved away, we maintained a friendship.  This wasn’t a surface-level friendship, either.  We confided in each other about our struggles as wives and working women and we were always telling one another how thankful we were to have the other in our lives.

And then it all changed.
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That bumpy spiritual road

Let me preface the following paragraphs by saying this – I’m not just writing this to share my thoughts out into the faceless, endless black hole of the internet.  I would love comments/thoughts on this topic.  I’m inquiring because I’m truly, honestly curious and I want to have a real discussion (not a debate or argument) on this topic.

I’ve made no secret of my spiritual challenges on this blog.  I’ve moved around and I’ve left churches and I’ve explored others, and at the end of the day, I end up right where I was when I started – frustrated and confused.  Over the past few months, I’ve been too worked up and busy with the move and my role at work to really focus on thing of the spiritual nature, but it’s the holiday season now and things are slowing down.  I can breathe again, and I can think about things besides bus tables and traffic patterns and all those other things that dictate my life out here now.  Naturally, as we finally get “settled” here, we want to find a home church.  It’s important to us, not only for worship but for the community it fosters and that we so desperately need in a region where we have no family and only a few friends.

First, some facts I can deduce from my Christian journey so far:

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Round peg, square hole

Since starting my night shift job almost seven months ago, Hubby and I have found it nearly impossible to go to church on Sunday morning.  We’ve made a few valiant attempts to set the alarm for 9am so that we can get cleaned up, eat breakfast, and make it for the last service at 11am, but inevitably  we would sleep through the alarm.  When you rarely turn in before 4am and walked the equivalent of a few miles over the course of your work night, getting up just five hours later is a difficult feat!  A few times, we’ve gone to our church’s Sunday night multicultural service, but it simply isn’t the same.  We love the hymns and the swelling choir – things not offered during an evening service.  Last night, however, we planned ahead.  We were in bed by 1am, and although I overslept until 9:30 and we ran around, clothes and shower towels everywhere, we made it into the church parking lot with 9 minutes to spare!

And boy, oh boy, am I glad we did.  I’ve missed our church.  I’ve discussed my faith journey in a previous post and since I made that entry three months ago, my heart has changed a bit (which I will get into in a minute.)  Our church is a very unique one in the world of the United Methodist Church.  It’s special.  It’s beyond unique.  And I’m not just saying that because I love the place so much.  Stepping inside our sanctuary is always awe-inspiring.  Every time.

photo (3)And our pastor.  Lord Almighty, our pastor is truly gifted.  Our hearts broke when our long-time pastor retired nearly two years ago now, but we were blessed with the amazingly talented Rev. Rob from North Carolina. Rarely do his sermons leave a dry eye and today was no different.  I felt moved and recharged at the end of his sermon, where he preached about how special we are to God and how much we mean to Him.  As we filed out of the massive sanctuary and headed back to our car, Hubby said, “That was good.  That was really good.”  And it was.

On our drive home, we both lamented about how exhausted we were and promised to one another that we needed to make time for worship each Sunday.  I retold an incident at work where one of my associates was talking about going to church and I asked her how she managed to be at church on a Sunday morning when she worked night shift.  Her response?  “Honey, that’s just the devil stoppin’ you!  You gotta get up, tell the devil to stuff it, and go!  You can sleep later!”  I think she had a point.

Now, regarding my “change of heart.”  I went to Mass a few weeks ago.  First time in over three years.  I told myself that I’d just go once but find that I’ll probably go more than just that one time.  After all, the local Catholic parish is within walking distance from here.  You see, I’m at a weird point in my Walk – I’m happiest in the UMC but part of my heart still aches for the Roman Catholic Church.  I wasn’t raised Catholic, but I spent 18 months in RCIA, was baptized into the church in 2007, and walked away in 2010 due to my frustrations with the the Church’s obsessive focus on anti-abortion at the expense of everything else in spiritual life.  In January, something happened to my family that tested both my faith and my sanity.  In hindsight, I overreacted to a bad situation, but try telling that to someone with Generalized Anxiety Disorder when they’re in panic mode.  (Hint: they won’t hear you.)  Ever since then, I’ve prayed the Chaplet of Divine Mercy pretty regularly.  And I started listening to old episodes of Mother Angelica Live again.  (How I love that nun!) My iPhone is full of religious apps, most of them relating to saints, Mary, and the liturgical year.

Where is this all coming from?  I ask myself this daily yet I don’t have an answer.  I’m not ready to commit fully back to the RCC.  I’m not willing to give up the beautiful spiritual life I’ve found (again) through the UMC.  I want to go to Mass on Saturday night and Worship on Sunday morning.  And something occurred to me recently because I realized that I can do both. See, I’ve spent the majority of my life believing that things were either black or white, right or wrong, up or down.  Life, though, has thrown all kinds of lessons at me through an African American husband, a lesbian best friend, bigoted relatives, and a family torn apart by addiction.  I am happy to finally say that I don’t have to be ONE type of Christian.  It’s nobody’s business but my own if I choose to worship in both the United Methodist and Roman Catholic churches. If I feel spiritually complete, that’s good enough for me. I can’t fit myself into this tiny little square Methodist hole, because then I’d be denying those parts of myself that want to pray the rosary and read about Marian apparitions.  And I can’t shove myself into that little round Catholic peg, because then I’d lose the amazing inspiration and outreach that I find as a Methodist.  I’m a round peg AND a square hole.  And you know what?  They fit together just fine.

About me · faith · Reflection

A very personal post (about religion)

One topic I usually avoid discussing is religion. My avoidance isn’t really because I don’t want to get into disagreements with people or because I’m uncomfortable with the topic, but because it’s such an intimately personal topic for me. My religious journey, it seems, is ever-ongoing. So why am I writing about it right now? Honestly, I don’t know.

First and foremost, I am Christian. I was “saved” as a child in the Baptist denomination, then belonged to a non-denominational church with a bib overall-wearing pastor while growing up. As a young adult, I fell away from church attendance. The 9/11 attacks, though, brought me (and a lot of other people) to church again. I became a member of the United Methodist Church then and was so happy there.

(Sidenote – my father is big into ancestry and all of our ancestors were Roman Catholic. As a result, I grew up traipsing around the grounds of Saint Meinrad Archabbey. My father had a deep fascination with the Catholic Church despite the fact that he was Methodist.)

Anyway, I moved around a bit as a young adult and eventually had to leave my UM church behind because I left the state. Once I settled again, I met and fell in love with the man who is now my husband. He was staunchly Catholic. There was no budging on this and he made it clear that if we had children, they, too, would be Catholic. Because I always had a healthy respect for the RCC, I began exploring the idea of conversion. This led me to the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) and eventual baptism into the Catholic Church. For four years, I was utterly happy within the RCC. I grew in my relationship with God more than ever before. I prayed the rosary, had a special affinity for the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, participated in Eucharistic Adoration, and even developed and ran my own blogging site about life as a Catholic woman and wife.

And then… something changed. I can’t pinpoint what it was, but it seemed to change at the same time for my husband. We were happy in the Catholic Church where I was baptized, but once we moved back to the city I had lived in long before, we became weary. I honestly believe it was because each and every week, the homily, instead of being about topics to help us live our lives better as Catholics and Christians, was all about abortion. Week after week, the mantra was “abortion is bad, abortion is terrible, we must stop abortion.” Regardless of a pro-life or pro-choice stance, it got old. As a married couple unable to conceive, this weekly lecture became tedious. My spiritual well slowed to a trickle and eventually ran dry. So we’d go to a different church, only to have the same thing happen. I was no longer being spiritually fed. I was no longer feeling Jesus in my life. The prayers became nothing more than rote mumblings before they stopped completely. And then I walked away for good.

One Sunday afternoon, approximately 6 months after we stopped going to Mass, my husband said, “So tell me about these Protestants.” We talked for a while and he told me that he’d like to attend a service. Because I know him and what he likes, I took him back to the same United Methodist Church that I’d belonged to ten years before. He instantly fell in love. In no time at all, we were Methodists. I removed my rosary collection, took down our crucifixes, removed our holy water font, stopped my reading of books by Mother Angelica, and we left the Catholic Church. We ignored my mother-in-law’s declarations that we were hellfire bound and found new spiritual life. Three years later, we’re still members of the UMC. I’m free from the things I never really found comfort with in the Catholic Church (confession to a priest, the heavy emphasis on Mary, the heavy focus on abortion at the expense of absolutely everything else going on in the world) and find myself moved to tears by the amazing sermons of our gifted pastor.

I say all the time that I don’t miss anything about the Catholic Church but that’s not entirely true. The music was reverent and beautiful. I was never more at peace than when I sat in total silence for an hour during Eucharistic Adoration. I miss my intense passion for reading all things about the RCC, volunteering with religious orders, and spending time talking to nuns, who are among the bravest and strongest women I have ever met. The thing I miss most, though, is the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. One particular version of it is done in song and it is among the most beautiful prayers I’ve ever heard. Recently, I decided that I was going to start praying this again, whether I’m Catholic or not. The bottom line is that I’m Christian and I find immense peace and comfort when praying it. It calms my tired soul when nothing else seems to work.

So all of this leads me to the video posted below. The Chaplet of Divine Mercy in prayer is too beautiful not to share with those who might find comfort from it, regardless of the church they’ll attend on Sunday.

Chaplet of Divine Mercy in song – EWTN from Ralph J. Pensiero on Vimeo.