Losing My Religion

An old friend called me today. He asked where I was preaching? After initial trepidation, I nervously hemmed, hawed and complained how my mother-in-law’s health was declining, how my daughter’s school kept me busy, how I didn’t really have the time or the resources to devote to looking for a new appointment. I left my job as head pastor shortly after the 2016 election and the sad truth was and is that I don’t see my self ever preaching again. At least not from a pulpit in a church. The reality I live with, but haven’t really fully admitted to myself until now, is that I don’t know if I will ever go back to church again, except maybe for a cousin’s wedding or a niece baptizing her newest chick.

For the better part of past 48 years I was fully committed. I saw my very being, a complete identity framed by the liturgy, hymn and sermon presented to me, for me…. like weekly manna for my own consumption, the very gift of God. Church had been my safe place when my home life was chaotic and unsure. Youth group, choir, Awana’s, Vacation Bible school, were the constructs of permanence in a life that had no boundaries or structure. Everything church represented to me in those years made me feel alive, it gave me purpose and a sense of a greater calling. I went to seminary to study the scriptures in original Greek and Hebrew. I had a love affair with the Biblical text, consuming it over and over again like a cinnamon bon without calories….I could not get enough. If the Church was the bride of Christ than I was the Maid of honor ushering in the bride for her encounter with Christ.

Everything about my life was framed by the moral tenants of my evangelical world view. I had no problem what so ever with the patriarchy, the misogyny the violence that was right before my face. I had a pat answer and a tidy conclusion for all the questions anyone would bring, we all did. The doctrine of life consisted of defeating the abortion pushers…those people who wanted to kill babies, rip them from a momma’s womb. A blind eye turned to the systemic oppression that precipitated the choice which brought no joy but necessity.  And in the same breath I said yes to the death penalty as it was perfectly acceptable and necessary: people needed to pay for their crimes with their life ,if that was the cost.

I fully subscribed to the notion that the man was the head of the home, the head of the relationship and all needed to be sourced through him and his understanding of God’s call and provision. That being gay was morally abhorrent to God….That sin was sin but some sins were worse than others. Lying, gluttony and sloth escaped the judgment of the pews.  I organized my life around trying to be just good enough to not commit the sins that the church frowned upon.

Ironically two things happened along the way. One, my loving incredible husband could care less about being the head. He was more interested in being a partner, a friend, a lover – being in “charge” just wasn’t his style. For 25 years I tried to make him be who he wasn’t. It was all crookedly framed by my strong personality attempting to underhandedly usurp his headship so it looked to the world that I was the obedient wife. I cannot tell you how many times I now say to myself….”How the hell did he put up with me for so long”?

He went along for my ride, as I drug him to marriage conference, adult Sunday school, endless church services, small group and even as the husband of a seminary student and future pastor….. never a complaint he uttered…. He loved me fully and completely, this was how he showed me his unfailing love, by being present and accepting of me in all my crazy ideas. All the while I often felt guilty for my unrelenting desire to lead while making him out to be the head.

The second and perhaps biggest thing was the 2016 election. That nauseating, futile realization that the Emperor was truly naked.  All of a sudden it was as if someone changed the rules while I was looking the other way, the scales fell from my eyes. All the things the church stood for, held tight, and built its moral reputation on went completely out the window. The new language was framed loosely around God’s mysterious way of bringing about his will. It had always been code for explaining a situation that didn’t morally or ethically match up, but this time it just didn’t sit …..I saw the Emperor bare butted and all I could do was scream…. He’s Naked, He’s Naked. It became so clear to me, how could they not see. They pushed this line that black was white, up was down, wrong was right,  and sin was ok (as long as it provided a pathway to power in the Supreme Court) . It was as if they all had a meeting that I wasn’t invited to and decided that they choose political power over decency and inhumanity over love. That was their line and they were sticking to it…..I could yell and scream….What is wrong with everyone?….Can you not see this? Hello,… is there anybody sane out there …..We don’t go for this….. This is not the church….. But they had a taste of power  and the lotus leaf proved more palatable than any moral rational.

And just like that, I was an alien, a foreigner in my beloved home, the place which once inspired me, challenged me to behave in Godly ways, called me to be a mother who stayed home with her children, who didn’t drink or smoke or curse and was obedient to her mate. This place that I loved that I had spent my life serving had settled for a thrice married, cheating, lying, insufferable king who mocked disabled, called immigrants rapists and murderers, conspired with an enemy for economic gain, unrepentant, proud and incorrigible and just down right ignorant. A man who so completely was the antithesis to Christ, it seemed almost a joke…. If he had been democrat….which he was till he decided the better angle was the church, he would have been crucified. This was the new reality. Everything I witnessed , everything I saw, everything I experienced , could not be unseen, unfelt or denied….. the marriage bed was violated, the bride of Christ was really only a perpetrator of judgement and hate, of envy, of seeking unrelenting power. And that shattering, that break of the glass that held my fragile understanding of faith broke into a million little pieces. I had lost my religion.

Two years out now, I am slowly adjusting, though I will never fully understand the appeal of dissent.  What has emerged in my absence from the church is this beautiful, messy, imperfect mosaic of my future faith. An understanding of Spirit, of life, of love, of unconditional acceptance, not driven by class, or race, gender, status or acceptable behavior. It is fueled by the pure essence of Love. Without the institution of church and its confines I am able to experience the reality of who God is and always was to me…..the God who sat beside me at three when I was frightened and alone, during abuse, and neglect and defeat.  I had always known this love of a God so powerful it drew me through the mountain, and valley and badlands, to a place of freedom, of security and empowerment. Giving me wings to fly, a voice to speak and the permission to know. My religion boxed that in and made God a Genie who only answered the chosen. Though I have lost my religion, I am now so very grateful, because I have not lost God.  I can now fully embrace that I am the child of the most high God, warts, and doubts and anger and all. And I am enough in that knowing, and  not  the church, nor the powers of government, or those who blindly follow can ever take that away. I am enough. without title, position or congregation, even if I never go to church again, I am loved.