This is the first post in a weekly series of entries wherein I attempt to put down my religious frustrations into words. As I mentioned in the last post, I’m trying to take care of my whole self, not just my physical self. The goal is to do this every Sunday after book club.
So. Book club/Bible-Study-That-Doesn’t-Read-The-Bible. We’re reading Don Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. When it first came out, I was absolutely floored by this book. It changed my outlook on Christianity. Then I kind of forgot about it. Now I’m reading it again and remembering why I loved it so much in the first place. I’ve also been journaling about each chapter, which has been kind of freeing. Most of these entries are going to be the Sparknotes version of my journal. These are probably going to be really long. Here it goes.
(This is from last week.)
Chapter 12 is about church, how it can be horrid and great at the same time. If you know me, you know that I have had one bad experience with churches after another. My first church was spiritually abusive. I spent seven years of my life in fear of hell, scared that if I left, they would pray for me to die like we prayed for one of my best friends when she left. I was called bitter and rebellious and was told I no longer “had the anointing” when I asked questions. When Brittani died, he sent me a bunch of Facebook messages about how I’m a “grumpy old man” and questioning how I got my scholarships since I wasn’t Pentecostal anymore, insinuating he was going to get them taken off of me. He called me one night when I was at college and threatened to get me kicked out a week before graduation. My second church was an offshoot of that one and turned very cult-like and very “hey, let’s speak in tongues and roll around on the floor and hey this family is the center of the church so follow them DO NOT EMAIL THE PASTORS WITH YOUR CONCERNS THEY DO NOT WANT TO HEAR IT AND WILL ACCOST YOU AT FRIDAYS.” So. There’s those in a nutshell.
Don talks about when he used to go to church, how he also felt like the adopted kid, as if there was “room at the table for me.” He said he was accepted but not understood. This is the the best way I’ve heard this feeling put into words. It’s how I’ve felt my entire life. Even when I was allowed to be in church leadership (I was a youth leader for five years), my ideas and questions were always met with a shaking head and a dismissive smile that said, “Oh, there goes Sierra again. Bless her heart.” I never fully fit in.
The only time I felt somewhat understood was in my Spiritual Formation class senior year of college. Pastor Chris was the first religious leader I’ve had a conversation with who didn’t seem to be utterly annoyed with me and constantly looking like he’d rather be somewhere else. One time, I pretty much hijacked the class with questions about prayer and didn’t feel like I was being a hinderance and that everyone else in the room wanted me to go away. Admittedly, I left with more questions than I came in with, but it was the first time I knew there was hope for me and the Church.
Don says, “I felt stupid, too, like some bitter idiot all wet and wanting everybody to cater to me, to my ideas about who Jesus is and was and the way he wants us to live.” Sometimes I feel like, when I ask questions, especially on Facebook, that I come off sounding like a raving lunatic or a child throwing a temper tantrum. I just want answers. It’s incredibly frustrating to feel this way all the time and it’s good to know that I’m not alone in this. When I was at my former churches, “bitter” was the number-one adjective I had thrown at me when I got like this. When I was first called out on it, I really thought I was possessed. I think I’ve been prayed over roughly 23 times to be delivered from “the Spirit of Rebellion,” only to fake some tongues to get people to leave me alone. It gets exhausting and embarrassing after awhile, having everyone surrounding you and shouting at the demon that may or may not exist and you don’t give them any results for their hard worked.
Don eventually comes to the conclusion, “In the end, I was just different, you know. It wasn’t that [the churches] were bad, they just didn’t do it for me.”
This is the third time I’ve read this book and the first time I’ve taken notice of this line. My problem is that I don’t know what would do it for me. I’m so terrified of getting involved in a church and dealing with crazies that I just don’t want to put in the effort. Plus, you know, there’s this whole thing where I’m not sure if God exists. That would be nice to know.
Don closes the chapter by saying not to hold grudges against other churches. This is hard for me, obviously. As much as I try to forgive the pastors of those churches, I really can’t. I’ve thought I have a few times, but I still get pissed off when I think about what they put me through. I don’t know how to deal with this.
It’s funny. Last week, I said I didn’t know how to forgive [names withheld]. This week, I captioned “Oprah’s Lifeclass” (and I can say this because it aired!) where she defined forgiveness as “giving up the hope that the past could be any different.”
I had never really thought of that. Part of my reasoning of why I can’t forgive them is that forgiveness would be saying it was okay for them to do what they did and it isn’t. It’s not okay at all.
It is perfectly acceptable to not think it is okay, because it wasn’t. I just need to accept that what’s done is done and I can’t change that. There’s no way it could have turned out differently. Wishing it was and holding on to this grudge is giving them free rent in my head. I don’t have room for that.
Similarly, I haven’t forgiven God or The Universe or whatever for Brittani dying. I act like I’m okay and, hey, it’s been two years and I’ve moved on, but I really haven’t. I still reach for my phone to text her sometimes. I never really grieved. I was too busy making sure no one worried about me. Michael even noticed that I wasn’t okay and we were only around each other for a week.
Watching this particular show, I came to the realization that there is no changing anything. The accident was going to happen one way or another and beating myself up because I didn’t go with her or make her stay home or whatever isn’t going to solve anything. I can’t keep being angry at myself and I can’t keep being angry at God for not saving her. It will not bring her back and it will not make this big empty spot go away.
And to counteract all of this seriousness, here’s a picture: