:: Part II of III; a short series on my journey of faith.
Anywhere with Jesus and his people was my happy place.
Going to church 3-5 times a week as a child didn't seem crazy to me. It was a place to escape the tension of home and an upper of the best kind - studying, praying, and singing left me feeling close to Jesus in a way that solitary worship in ordinary life didn't.
This was a place of community, of family unlike anything else I knew. I was surrounded by loving adults who invested in me through Sunday school and youth group, who laced up my ice-skates every cold Sunday night at the local rink, who taught me how to drive stick shift on the way to Saturdays of boating on the river, and who paid my way to summer camp and summer bible school in California when I was the only kid whose parents couldn't afford to.
I knew all of this was generated from a genuine kindness and interest in me, my life, and my eternal soul. But the older I got the more I began to see this love exercised as a militant charity. There was a belief that enforced conformity could somehow quicken an inner transformation. Sound theology was said to be the basis of an insistent system of performance and conviction but there was little of the joy and diversity often found in a thriving family. When we shared the love of Jesus, we did it with all the purported power of the Spirit but with little of its patience. Marching to Zion with more zeal and commitment than others was our mission but we eventually learned we were marching to the tune of a mischievous pied piper.
After the revelation of misconduct, abuse, and cover up at the highest level, everything started to crumble. The entire church structure dissolved overnight but the faith of some would be a slow erosion. How do you separate solid truth from preaching that needed no accountability when its source was said to be from the Spirit? How do you silence the echo of a egotistical preacher when you read familiar scripture? How do you bury a damaging past when your present is still a pursuit of your childhood God?
As I began to deprogram from the system and legalism of my youth, I pursued answers to questions that for years had been left unanswered or insisted on without basis. I figured the best way to solidify my precarious faith was to build it back up with absolute truth. I sought out apologists and theologians, critics and researchers who would know better. If I knew all the right answers, I could never fall victim again.
But my disillusionment only grew as I attended an event with a world renowned apologist who gave no answers to questions and doubts but only titles of books he had authored and the sale price of each. Afternoon radio preachers pounded hard on pulpits about pet absolutes that had no doctrinal root and derived meaning from passages that hardly reflected their points. Conversations in small groups led to standard answers of "just believe with your heart, divorce your head from the matter." I was told grace, a new and beautiful truth I had only recently fully grasped and embraced, if extended to all as Jesus intended, became a dangerous detriment to myself and my family. I became privy to centuries old debates about the very things I wondered about and it began to set in that there were no simple solutions.
Critics added more doubts to my questions and every answer I didn't know seemed another nail in the coffin of confident faith. Old friends became seekers of other religions or found contentment in believing there really was no one way to God. Was there evidence that proved my Jesus was but a spiritual straw man? Could a camel really break all confidence in a King born into straw? Would such revelations be the final straw that broke this Christian's hope?
The harder I sought for resolution, the farther I felt myself slipping from the faith. There were fewer absolutes in Christianity than I had believed and I wanted concrete, not unsettled waves of gray underfoot. I sensed and fought the storm but ignored the Jesus holding out his hand promising to calm it all.
(next, Part III and the resolution.)