Beliefs that Hurt — Faith that Heals
(An excerpt from my unpublished memoir “The Prodigal’s Progress”)
Many carry battle scars from their past religion.
Some are head injuries.
Maybe you grew up in a cultural bubble where you were spoon-fed certain doctrines. But now those stories are difficult to swallow. They no longer make sense to you. You gag on a literal acceptance of water being turned into wine. It defies the laws of physics. It’s a stretch to think that vintage wine comes from the backyard faucet. But because you have a deep respect for the sacred scriptures you still look between the lines for deeper levels of meaning.
Then there are those who leave with a broken heart.
Your family no longer talks to you because you left the fold. Or your terminally ill loved one is told that he is not healed because of his lack of faith. You were trashed because your came out as being gay
In my experience the motto “you know we are Christians by our love” evaporated when I questioned *Tribal (Evangelical Christianity) beliefs like a literal interpretation of the Bible. I also went through a life-changing divorce that led to my being stiff-armed by the Tribe.
People don’t usually volunteer to become exiled from their religious community. That’s especially true if like myself one has been a life member. And even more so if one’s identity was wrapped up in a leadership role.
In my case Bruce the bouncer did not evict me from any congregation. I slunk out of the back door. I also licked my wounds from rejection by the Tribe for my divorce. But the good news was that I awakened to my inner consciousness through meditation, centering prayer, and frequent dreams and visions (all once considered woo woo stuff from my scientific and theological training).
I caught a glimpse of ways that I could plug into the Divine flow that already existed deep within (my seat of spiritual knowledge). In the words of St. Catherine of Genoa (1447–1510) I started to see that
“My deepest me is God!”
That inner self that came to the surface has other names like the Holy Spirit, Imago Dei, higher consciousness, intuition, and awareness. Thomas Merton calls it the True self.
I did not have to go on a search for Presence. It sought me from within my heart as well as from way beyond my skin.
My biggest current challenge was that I could see this inner world intellectually. I knew about that other world. But I struggled to feel my religion. My head gets it but my heart remains constricted.
I was a divided self.
The good news is that toxic religion no longer hits my hot buttons. Sure it grates on my nerves when Tribe members view my quest for mystical experience as aberrant or “from the devil”. I’m gobsmacked that folks still live in a make belief universe where God is viewed as the choreographer with some master plan.
But certainty about God’s ways is a fools quest. The Tribe loves to think that they live in the world of facts. The grey world of intuitive and mystical knowing scares the shit out of them. Maybe that’s because they can’t control the outcome. But such tribal dogma no longer limited my exploration of the unknown territory of the soul.
Some aspects of leaving the tribe still puzzle me. Why do I still tear up when I hear certain hymns sung? Is that a sentimental longing for past ways? And why am I still drawn to be part of a community of faith? But for me this is an approach/avoidance conflict. I ask, “Is that because I still don’t trust certain religious people?” “What fear contracts my heart and builds up a high wall of no?”
My search for community is a new frontier in my personal growth. I know that I still struggle to accept some people as they are. I am skittish when Christians invite me to join their group. My unruly twin realizes that I don’t see the world the same way that Tribal members do. And forget any meaningful connection with someone from the political Right! I am gun shy about being judged (and hurt) all over again.
Untangling the ball of past religious experience has been a messy convoluted process. Right now, along with millions, I am a religious refugee. I list my religious affiliation on application forms as “none”. I’m what John Shelby Spong calls “A Christian in exile”.
I have not darkened the doorstep of a house of worship in decades. At the same time I seek to be a follower of the mythical Jesus. But I don’t subscribe to the historical person since there is very little data on him. The theological Jesus pitched by the Biblical authors is their point of view to a particular audience.
The Jesus I now meet is someone who lived consistently in the presence of his True self. He fully expressed loving essence. His consciousness was totally rooted in his divine nature and grounded in the reality of the human condition. In his daily practice of walking with Presence, he was not just listening for voice of God. He was the voice of God. And so are we when we embody our True self. As my role model Jesus teaches me how to be who I already am, the embodiment of the Divine inner self.
The Tribe does not tolerate leavers. They label me as lost. But I take comfort in the words of JR Tolkien, “Not all those who wander are lost”. In my wilderness meanderings, despite my so-called reprobate mind and heart, I schlep towards Bethlehem. I long for a direct and authentic connection with Spirit.
- Evangelicals are not a monolithic entity. There is diversity of thought and a spectrum of beliefs in that religious camp. There is a growing group of “new” evangelicals that has moved beyond xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, and anti-science. Thought leaders in this group include Jim Wallis from the Soujourner movement. There are many good people in this religion. They are not to be dismissed as deplorable