I just listened to a podcast. Just a couple of guys talking about life and community and walking with God. I liked it. They seemed genuine. Felt genuine to my heart. Two guys, hanging out and sharing that with me.
I liked that they did not tell me how to do anything. I liked that they were open enough to call a gift a gift without some self-deprecating mumbo jumbo. I liked that they seem to be fast on a road trip through that wonderful land of not knowing what is next. A pilgrimage they call it.
That is where I hang out. I feel lonely in this place sometimes...er...mostly. I like the thought of having some buddies for the journey.
Before I forget...here is the link.
Commercial over. That wasn't so painful.
Now I want to talk a little bit. I know, surprises never cease.
They said it was a conversation so I am conversing.
If you have been following along you are not shocked to see that I, too, have been on a pilgrimage. Over time I have spit out bits and pieces of it in such a way that you may have wondered at the state of my salvation.
Welcome to the club.
I wonder if today, seeded by these pilgrims, I could give you a short (stop laughing) road map of the where-i've-beens so that you might not be quite so scared for me and the fact that I have absolutely no idea about the where-i'm-goings.
I am a pk/missionary kid. Generations strong in the church of Christ. We don't drink, we don't chew, we don't go with boys that do. We also don't dance or have instruments in our church buildings. We take communion every Sunday. We know that Jesus wasn't really born on Christmas and will fight you for it.
We also feel quite positive that you are going to hell if you haven't been baptized, although if you are on the brink of death and you have a disease where you cannot get wet or you have broken every bone in your body and cannot be immersed and you die before you get dunked...well, we will just leave that up to Jesus.
He has a special circumstances file that is way beyond our understanding.
You see what I have been up against.
I was that kid that never took to the status quo. When the preacher said that we (c of C) had the truth, I wondered if the denominations (of which we were definitely NOT) thought the same thing.
If they thought they had the truth...and we thought we had the truth...and we seemed by all outward appearances to serve the same Jesus...then who in the hell had the truth?!
Never in your wildest dreams would I have said that out loud.
My mom got sick one Sunday morning and then she felt good enough later to go to evening services. Obviously, she had not taken communion that morning. As was usual, they called everyone up front to have communion that night "if you had missed the opportunity of communing with the Lord that morning".
She stayed in her seat.
I thought sure she was going to go to hell. Lightning at the very least.
Nothing. Not even a rumble from the heavens.
She told me later that she had communed with the Lord that day. And it didn't involve grape juice and a little cracker.
Troublemaker she was.
This began a long journey for me. A journey of "who said?", "what for", and especially "why the hell not?!"
Again, I am just flexing my grown up ability to cuss here. I never would have uttered such things. Back then my cuss words were Jiminy Cricket, oh my goodness, and cripes sakes. Jiminy Cricket got called down because it had the initials JC which we all know means Jesus Christ so that is cussing in that you are using "by-words" so that is not ok.
But I still said it when nobody was around.
So, I grew up there. In that fantasy land of right and good.
Then I went to college. Christian college. At that time I only knew about secular colleges (all the others) and christian colleges (York, Harding, Lubbock, Oklahoma Christian, Abeline, and Pepperdine). Those last two had kind of strayed in some of their liberal teaching but you could go there if you were good and grounded...just had to be careful.
I did not even know that other churches had schools that belonged to them. I really thought that this was the extent of the christian colleges. You can laugh now.
I went to York College. York Christian College. York Church of Christ College where other people from other churches went but we didn't talk about that. (hopefully we can be a good influence on them tho)
Chapel every day. Mandatory.
Church every Sunday. Strongly encouraged but nobody taking roll.
Guilt trip for missing "worship", understood.
It didn't take me long to figure out that if I got up at 11 on Sunday, I could shower and put on my dress and pantyhose and get to the lunch line just on time.
"Hey, I didn't see you in church today?!"
Obviously I was there cuz...pantyhose...helloooo.
After a few months I stopped with the dress up sham and just came in sweats like the other losers that skipped church. That group got bigger and bigger every Sunday.
Other than pesky church attendance I was the almost perfect christain college girl. I went to bible classes (mandatory) and other classes and most of the devo's where they sang the disco jesus songs. I was a good girl. I got involved in all the campus activities. (all the nice mentionable ones) I made runner up to Miss YC. Runner up because I didn't make the grades. (They told me this so I could change my ways. )
My friend didn't make the cut to be Mr. YC.
He had the grades and all the right things but he still didn't make it...rumor said it was because he was a Methodist. That didn't feel right but what are you gonna do? Protest? Did the rules say you had to be a member of the church?
Church being understood as THE church of Christ. The one true. The only. The church. (Uncapitalized in proper humility.)
My questioning heart was peering intently down the road marked destruction. I was questioning everything. I was cohabitating with people that were confusing me. Christians (church of Christ members) that were into every kind of mischief. Baptists and Methodists that seemed to have their heads on straight. Church had always been dry as toast for me but my family was perpetually in leadership so I figured I would get into it when I grew up.
Now, I was growing up and church was dryer that I had imagined possible. Hard to swallow.
It was all I had ever known. I might question, butI never entertained the thought of not being a part of it.
Besides, I only went once in a while. I could just ignore it.
Until that Sunday when one of the basketball players came forward to be baptized but the preacher refused to do it because he hadn't had the proper "so you want to be a christian" bible study course. Refused, in front of the whole congregation, to let that guy have access to the body of Christ.
Refused to open to him the gates of heaven because he didn't know enough about how to give his life to Jesus.
And so it begins.
I had been slowly strolling on the road to heresy. Now I was at a calorie burning jog.
How dare that preacher judge that boys heart and his commitment?
I didn't understand. Still don't.
My church attendance actually picked up when I started dating my man. (I don't think you ever go to church so much as when you feel guilty about the state of your purity. )
I could sit beside him and stare at the baptistry and never listen to a word the preacher said.
That hot body next to me was way worth it.
We prayed before and after every make out session. Just like all good christians should.
Then we married, we set off for the big city and Oklahoma Christian University.
Early marriage was a hit and miss for church going. Big college churches hurt my heart. I was a grown-up now and knew I needed to be in the pew every time the doors opened. But I could not find my seat. Nobody knew my name. I was as lonely as the other 1000 people in that building. And I smiled just as big through it all.
Life at home was hard that first year. Struggles with the should's and the I don't have to's. Marrying my faith to my husbands faith was way harder than toilet paper orientation or toothpaste lid negotiations. We finally just gave up. Stopped going to church. Stopped feeling guilty about it. Got way happier in our lives together. Didn't go back until we decided that our kids needed to be in church. (Plus we were scared that Grampa was going to ask someone about the 10 commandments and our cover would be blown.)
We made it through church for the next 10 years. Tried on a couple of c of c styles. Got away from the big college churches and were really blessed with some small congregations that knew us and liked us and let us be a part. That was sweet. We had little kids that got to go to bible class. They did craft thingys. We dabbled in some more progressive congregations and we learned about the Holy Spirit. Conferences about hearing God and doing great things for Him. Kingdom manifestos. Army of the Lord. Blazing Faith. Instrumental music. Women on the church stage.
I was allowed to ask questions. Everybody was asking questions.
This was life changing.
We got soaked in the move of God that we believed was the only real deal.
And then I saw a man dance in church. Right up in front. And I watched after church when another man came up and told him "you've been warned before, we don't do that here."
And my jog became a full on sprint.
Someday I might tell you more about that dancing story. It is a lot to unpack. Honestly, it has been hard to sprint this road with that suitcase packed like it is. Soon that spring lock will burst, exploding pent up emotions all over the highway...and then I will run like the wind...but for now it just is what it is...a load of locked up crap. I will get the key soon enough. When my heart is ready.
We stayed at that church a while longer. I watched it curl in on itself. I believed at the time that God left. (I don't believe that anymore.)
Leaving was hard but we just couldn't stay in a place that "God had left".
If He was leaving...so were we.
We visited a few places for a few months but that was too stressful. God led us. Not for the first time but now I was better at listening and following. I know He led us because we ended up at the very place I swore I would not go. ( I hate it when He does that. )
That was a lovely place. A big place.Full of lovely people. But we had a calling and it felt so good to be "allowed" to use our gifts.
I am going to use the words -for a season- because that is what it was. For a season we thrived. For a season we grew and felt love and acceptance and useful. And then it seemed to just stop. I do not know the spiritual ramp up to this. Everything was fine. And then it just wasn't.
No anger. No hard feelings. Just "time to go".
In my heart I feel sure that it was God's leading that got us to that point. After I heard/felt that call I saw things begin to manifest that were not good for us and our little family. Things that were not present before. (Or that I did not see before?)
Lots of things I wonder about. I wonder if we would have been spared some pain if we had left immediately. Then, I see how good God is to us to have spoken to our hearts so clearly BEFORE all hell broke loose. We knew His presence and when He opened the door we were packed and ready to go. When we left, we did so with whole hearts. I try to hold onto that.
After we left it got harder. We had been in leadership positions there. At one point we were small group leaders. We helped in the children's ministry. We had children in 4 different age group classes. We were deeply involved. But it was a large and growing church. When we left we were not missed. And that hurt deeply. Still hurts. Nobody called. If they wondered where we had gone they were too busy to find out. It is the way with big churches. It is not right.
Our next and final stop was to return to the church we had left years before. That shocked us to the core but again, we felt directly led. If you have ever felt directly led then you understand me when I say that I went to a place I did not want to go, with such complete peace and security that I did not even question the rightness of the decision for one moment. I don't guess it always works that way but I love it when it does.
I hate it when you seemingly have no leading and your wants and needs get all mixed up until you feel like you could explode. Also been there, done that.
When I got back to this church it was like Norm walking into Cheers. Everybody knew my name. It was exactly what I needed. And it felt soooo good. I felt sure that this church had changed. That everything was going to be alright. That we were home to stay.
I have never known pain like I felt at the hands of those beautiful people that I still love so much.
I feel certain that we were led back to this place to be support for a dear friend. This friend was mutilated and humiliated by the organizational structure of this church body. Those are strong, strong words but they are my truth. I feel sure that without someone there to stand beside, this person would have been convinced and convicted of being psychologically crazy and spiritually possessed.
I am thankful to God to have been able to be there at that time.
I did not stay long in that place. I am glad to be gone. Of course the problem surrounding my friend was not the only issue at this body. It was just one of many.
The thing that sent me out and locked the door on my return was the sure message being taught to my teen daughter. The message was this...
We have the truth. If your commitment is not here with us, you are being misled. We are your family. You should be here even if your parents say otherwise. You are old enough to choose for yourselves. If you are not here...you are missing God.
You know how the road runner just leaves a puff of smoke. Yeah.
I want to end this here. But this is not the end. I have left the organizational structure that people have come to call the church. I would very much like to talk about how that feels and what it means.
pray for me people.
I will post the next chapter tomorrow.
If you want to read more...
Look to the left < just above the fishes and see the labels. Click on church and maybe angst to see more of my journey.
Here is the one that really says why I left...
This is a really hateful one...
Here is one on forgiveness that I might want to read again...
Or this one because I love it...
Then again...all this is me. Go for it...I dare ya.