Yup, I go to church
That’s a really crummy title, and frankly sounds way more “YEAH, I go to church. WHACHOO GONNA DO ABOUT IT?!” than I’d like, but I have seriously spent the better part of today trying to think of a title, so for now, that stays.
Here’s where this… explanation? That’s a bad word, because I owe no one an explanation, it sounds like I’m justifying actions that don’t need a justification. And it’s not a narrative, because there’s not a whole ton of a story here (I think). But here’s where this thing comes from, and why I’m telling it, sharing it, whatever (if I keep getting caught up in my own word choice, we’re going to be here for a while).
I grew up in the Mormon church, because Dad’s a practicing member and Mom doesn’t have any particular denomination of Christianity she buys into but figured church on Sundays would be good for us kiddos. Now, Dad likes Mormonism because he like Structure (with a capital S) and Rules. He likes “We do it this way because that is how it is done.” If you know me even just in passing, you know that shit has never ever flown with me. I am all about “Why?”, and usually “Why the fuck?” and for a while if the answer to that was “Because I said so,” my well formed retort typically consisted of “I hate you” and was punctuated by a thrown spoon (well into high school, I might add. I once protested being grounded by emptying all the cooking utensils onto the floor because I am nothing if not expressive). So, aged 17, I was pretty done with Mormonism. I decided that I was all about Logic, because Logic and Why? go really well together (for the most part).
Interestingly enough, it was an acid head who brought spirituality back into my life (not with acid, I promise). If you’ve ever met someone who is really into psychotropics, odds are you’ve heard their version of “I got so high my body ceased to exist and I looked into the eyes of the universe and realized we are all one/everything is beyond comprehension/colors taste awesome.” Everyone’s version is a little different, but this guy’s story wrapped up with “…. and realized that God, the Universe, whatever you want to call it is in everything, far beyond our comprehension.” Well, I was 21, and in love, and had gotten there by a really, really strange turn of events that just did not make a whole ton of sense when looked at with just Logic. How could multiple relationships that had been formed by and major growth that had been born of this seemingly random string of (sometimes painful) events lead me to this place in my life where I was just so damn happy? Logic said “what a funny coincidence” and thanks to the gleeful disregard of Logic the acid head seemed so comfortable with, I kinda started toying with Spirituality. Sure, Logic went really well with Why? for most things, but sometimes it was handy for Spirituality to step up and answer “Why the fuck?” with “Who fucking knows? But odds are it’s right anyway.”
And I’m trying to give you the abbreviated version of the backstory (so much for not a narrative), so suffice to say Things Happened, Life Occured, and I Met People. But I was 24, and I’d been exposed to a slew of Christians who were not totally off their rockers. Oh yeah, they did some nutty stuff like starting stories with “But God is Good” and posted Instagrams of their Bibles, but their faith in this Jesus fellow seemed to genuinely make them happy, and not in a delusional kind of way I’d associated with religion for a long time. They weren’t burying their heads in the sand assuming the magic Sky Beast would bring them cake and ice cream if they wore the right clothes (“no bikinis! Your abdomen is made of sin!”) and said all the right magic words (side bar, Dad — “thee” and “thou” are actually the old english forms for informal address, so praying that way is not more respectful, it’s more familiar. Not that that matters, but you told me wrong when I was six and asked “Why?” and I am me so I remembered). And I was decidedly not happy. My 24th year could be concisely summed up by a clip of Sideshow Bob in a field of rakes on loop for 365 days. So I sat down with one of these Christians who instagrammed her Bible and asked “so what’s all this about, then?” and her response was a pretty concise and very cheerful “I just think God really likes us.”
And there’s more to it than that, but if I needed a thesis for this faith of mine, I’d probably start there. It’s been a little more than a year since I started attending a very liberal non-denominational Christian church, and I have gotten some very telling (and I used that word on purpose) responses when people have found out. There was the “Oh thank God!” from my parents, the “Huh, really? That’s… nice” from the majority of my liberal friends who I suspect think I should “know better,” and the incredibly hurtful “I want to tell you you’re missing the point.” That one stung, because it came out of the mouth of one of the people whose faith I’d observed as basis for my “maybe this isn’t crazy” hypothesis, and it was really shitty to find that her faith existed in the exact box I’d intentionally escaped at age 17. My personal favorite is when people go, “Wait… seriously?” as has happened a couple of times. Shortly after this whole thing started, I went and got dinner with a good friend I hadn’t seen in a while, and she got squirmier and squirmier over the course of the meal until she blurted out “So are you all Jesus-y now?”
No — I am not all Jesus-y now. But I attend a Christian church and I’m currently participating in Lent (dirt on my forehead included), and many of my newest friends are all Jesus-y. You can see why people are confused — and this brings us to the crux of this post.
I believe in a God who’s essence is love — even in the really shitty things like losing my job and getting dumped and being roofied and major health issues and crippling anxiety that torpedoes my plans and relationships a lot. I believe in kindness and compassion above everything else because Logic isn’t the thing that kept me away from suicide my Freshman year of college. I believe in things far beyond my understanding, like how somehow it all seems to work out for the best. I even believe that if you’re quiet and listen, something in you will whisper quietly which fork to take on your road when it really matters because somehow I ended up in Prague on a whim instead of Glasgow like I’d planned for a year and to paraphrase Frost, it made all the difference. I believe in the spiritual practices of prayer, meditation, and confession — not in the form of “bless me Father, for I have sinned” but in the huge relief of being able to sit with a pastor and be able to say in a safe place “oh boy, I done fucked up.” I believe “sin” is nothing more than the decisions we make that take us further away from happiness and wholeness and, yes, God. Funny enough, this stuff lines up pretty neatly with a lot of the stories told about the Jesus who wasn’t interested in the rules of the religious establishment but just loved people. I like the idea that God so loved the world (S)He sent Her(His) only begotten son to have acne and indigestion and anxiety and stubbed toes. To be, in a few words, human with us.
So here’s where I get off the Christian train. I don’t believe in Christ as “the one way to salvation.” I think faith is very solipsistic in that you can’t experience mine any more than I can experience yours — it only exists in the heads and hearts of each individual. So how can I believe, or even say, to a Hindu or a Muslim or an atheist or a Rastafarian “You’re doing it wrong. You’re missing the point”? I can’t — not only because that is a demonstratively shitty thing to say, but I really genuinely think it’s wrong. Your path to healing and wholeness probably won’t and definitely doesn’t have to look like mine. My faith is also incredibly nihilistic in that when I am dead and dust, it doesn’t matter ( “No one remembers the former generations,/and even those yet to come/ will not be remembered/ by those who follow them.” Ecclesiastes 1:11 — look, I even read your book). I have no idea what comes next, nor do I really care right now. If it makes me a better person, it doesn’t matter if I believe in God or the Giant Invisible Anus (ala Patton Oswalt). The God I believe in is as much the God of Solipsistic Nihilism as the God of Love, which is the kind of God I sleep better at night for having met. And frankly? I don’t believe a lot of Christians actually live a life Christ would be proud of. I don’t know that it’s a group I want to be lumped in with, especially when I encounter people who invalidate my faith because it doesn’t look like theirs (“You’re missing the point”) and those who would prefer tax cuts over social spending programs (Fox News) despite the declaration that “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
So what’s the point of all this? Mostly it’s my personal call to live and let live — it’s not your place to correct someone just because they don’t buy into the same story you do. If you live a life worth emulating, that makes a much bigger impact than being preached at. I got preached at constantly, but the thing that sunk in was not the sign slogans but the actions observed. It’s also a question I’ve been asked a couple of times, and it’s easier for me to express myself in writing than cornered in the hallway at work. And finally? I guess it’s a personal declaration that I, too, think that God just really likes us.