Some people are going to judge me harshly for what I'm about to write. I understand this because time was I would have done the same.
Some of you are probably going to feel sad for me or concerned. I appreciate that, I really do, and I'm sorry that I'm going to make you sad or worried. I'm sorry too if this makes any of you feel like I'm not who you thought I was. But I can't not write things because of how people might react. Especially this.
I think it's time to talk about why I don't go to church anymore.
I think this in large part because I feel like I should help the people in my life understand it and I haven't done a very good job with that. In order to do that, I need to get a better understanding of it myself and writing about things has always helped me work out what I think about them.
I've gone to church all my life. Always. I grew up in church. I went in college. Every place I moved I did the church shopping bit until I found one to go to every week. When I was working seven days a week in DC, I went to church. Tired and sick and even occasionally hung over, I went.
And not just church either. I did youth group. Small groups. Singles group. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in college, where I was on the worship team, led Bible studies, and was the administrator. I was a youth leader in Virginia and Texas. At times my life has revolved around whatever church or religious group I was involved in. It wasn't just my religious life, but my social life too. It was my free time and my community service.
I won't say that I regret it. For one thing, I try my very best not to let regret seep in. I am where and who I am today because of the experiences I've had and I wouldn't change it. Also, I have met some of the very best people I know through church and religious groups. They have been and are dear friends of mine, people I respect and love.
But none of that explains why I left.
It wasn't an abrupt decision. It happened over time. I just had a hard time listening to it after a while. It all started to sound more and more ridiculous to me. Unbelievable, preposterous nonsense.
So there was this faith that I had, that I had almost always had, and now I couldn't listen to anyone talk about it. They weren't saying anything that I hadn't been hearing for years, but now something was different. Something in me. And I felt like if I didn't get away from the voices, I'd lose it all together. What faith I had, I mean. I didn't really know how or when it started, but I knew some things were going to have to change.
I realized that I had spent so many years trying to live up to something impossible and beating myself up for not ever being good enough. I don't think that's a good thing. I don't think anything positive ever came out of living that way. There's being aware of your shortcomings so you can improve yourself and then there is berating yourself and allowing yourself to be berated by others about the extent of your own inadequacy. It's not constructive and it's no way to live.
I don't think it's the intent of faith or church, but it has been what I let it become. I have listened to good people explaining how they, how all of us are human scum and I have nodded along with everyone else in the room. I have written very earnestly about my endless failings as a Christian. Never patient enough, trusting enough, content enough. On and on it goes in those spiral notebooks full of my handwriting.
I don't want to do it anymore. I want to live my life. To try my best to be a good person, love my neighbor, give as I am able to help those in need, make responsible choices in how I live and who I choose to run my community, state, and nation. To be a good daughter, sister, aunt, friend, and girlfriend. To work hard at something that matters. I want to do what I can do, be the most loving and generous person I can, and let myself off the hook for the rest of it.
And I want and need some time to figure out what I believe. I can't do that by throwing myself back into an environment of being told what is and isn't true. I want to take a break from all of it to catch my breath and clear my mind. Then I want to do some thinking and studying for myself. What happens from there, I'm not sure. But I know I can't go back to some of where I have been. I won't let myself.
Because it wasn't easy to get here. It would be easy to say that getting to this point is something that happened to me, but it wasn't. It was a choice that I made. A series of choices, really. And each time I chose to let go of some certainty that I had held, I was giving up a part of who I had become. None of it was done lightly.
It's far easier, I find, to give yourself over to absolutes and stick your fingers in your ears and shout LA LA LA than to acknowledge the questions and shades of gray. But I started to see the gray and there's no unseeing it now. It seems to me that if God had wanted faith to be in terms of black and white, we wouldn't have scripture in poetry and parables. We can't remove the mystery from it by declaring that we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what each bit and piece means. Why would we want to?
I'm not saying that I won't ever go back to church. Just that right now and for the immediate future, this is what I need. Some quiet. Some time away from all of the voices to just spend alone with the questions and the possibilities.
I don't think I can explain it any better than that. That's about as far as I understand it myself. It's a strange place to be, after a whole lifetime of being so certain that I had all of the answers. But as disorienting as it can be, it also feels right. For now, anyway. Where it leads, we'll have to wait and see.