2/28/2012 | Share this article:By Sarah ~
Everyone has some sort of a moral compass. I would venture to say that even the most depraved have a line, wherever it may be. Usually we inherit a large portion of this from our families and other influential people in our lives, good or bad.
I was like so many other Americans was raised, Christian. We may be a diverse country with many different religions represented but Christianity is the most intertwined in our cultural subconscious. There comes a point when you must weigh your options and figure out what works for you. No matter who wants to sway you to their favored system of belief.
I was born into a very Norwegian, Lutheran family. My father’s Parents ran a small Lutheran Bible camp in a rural area close to Story City, IA. My mother’s family lived less than a mile away. I was born by the area midwife in the house my parents built between the two. Those first few years I was lovingly raised as the camp baby in this little christian bubble.
My family was the target Prairie Home Companion demographic, Garrison Keillor came in second only to Jesus. Kumla, Kringla, Lefse, and really anything white and slathered in butter was the norm at our table. Everyone was happy and on their way to a fulfilling Christan future. Serene picture right? That is until you factor in a genetic pool that would send Freud into a full blown panic attack. But like all good Midwesterners we learned to hide our crazy well. Only letting it come through in odd OCD, anxiety riddled, ticks and quirks.
For my first 10 years I was a very kind, well mannered, God fearing child. God fearing, that, right there. That statement is what I think started me down my own OCD-like fear of, sadly, everything.
Now, it is not at all my intention to bash or to criticize. I would not be the person I am today without my family and this faith that I was born into. But if left unregulated these things can deeply skew your understanding of this beautiful world. Especially as a child.
It wasn’t really until I was 10 or 11 that church began to stir up my anxiety. It seemed that things were becoming more intense in my world religion wise. I later came to realize that was when my Grandparents took a turn to the evangelical. Still very Lutheran they were, but now they raised their hands during worship, danced down the aisles, spoke in tongues, healed people with oils, spoke of demons, and spiritual warfare.
To a child raised in the Lutheran tradition of stand up, sit down, stand up, sing ,sit down, then the sermon, one more song, and out in time for football, this was amazing. Though I was never able to bring myself to join in the crazed worship I loved to watch the chaos. However this seemed to paint a big invisible, “She must need Jesus!” flashing sign above my head. That’s when I decided to take up sketching during worship. No one bothers you when you are drawing hearts, rainbows, and crucifixes.
As I got older I started to realize that, unbeknownst to me, there where other religions. And those people who follow these religions could be as passionate as I about said beliefs. As I began to question people in my family and church about other faiths I was always met with a similar answer, “They are blinded by the enemy and we must help them to see” or “The only way to true happiness is Christ”, this played havoc on my mind. I could not reconcile these happy and terribly interesting people with eternal damnation. This, I believe, was the moment my subconscious chose to partake in something called, “Suspension of Disbelief”. This was the only way to reconcile the questions that no matter how hard I tried, I could not find an answer.
I chose to ignore and remove myself from information that would lead me to question my faith. (I really didn’t know much about evolution until I was 24 because I would run from it’s faith corrupting logic.) All I had to tell myself, when I came to a question that sent me into an anxiety riddled questioning of my faith was, “God will explain it when you when you get to heaven.”. There I left it, I had a list of things I didn’t understand, but I feared where they would me lead if I indulged them.
I really think I could have kept all of this up if it wasn’t for an unfortunately timed midlife crisis by my parents that coincided with my, “What does it all mean?!” teenage years. Here’s where things start to get messy. Suffice it to say, my family was not doing too well and that‘s when Grandma, my dad’s mother, decided to step in and help.
(You must know my grandmother, personality wise, is a dead ringer for Hyacinth Bucket from the BBC show, Keeping Up Appearances, same for Richard Bucket and my Grandfather. The funny part is she loves that show and has no clue how ironic it is that she does.)
Grandma has always been a little too interested in her children's affairs. I remember her teaching us, my cousins and I, to be her eyes and ears for the goings on in our homes. We would tell her of their exploits and she would tell us how we must pray that they come back to God’s path. The whole family is so used to this that we don’t even blink when she tells us stories of having no problem walking into someone’s house when they are not home and anointing it inside and out with oil if she feels they have strayed too far from Christ. She has sent every single family member’s pictures to TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network). TBN then provides 24 hour intercessory prayer over you and your loved ones. Not that having people pray for you is a bad thing, it’s just kinda weird knowing your 8th grade picture is probably being passed by Benny Hinn on his way to the bathroom.
Along with the covert “helping” she did, she would also drag whichever grandchild was rebelling the most to Christian conventions. Personally, I have been to: Christian Friends Israel Convention twice, End Time Handmaidens Convention once (though I was dragged to the local chapter’s monthly meeting numerous times where their favorite pastime was to try to exorcise the demons out of me), a few Benny Hinn Revivals, and any youth event they could.
The problem wasn’t that I was any worse than my other cousins, I just didn’t hide it. I was that girl with hot pink hair, sparkles on every inch of my body, wore Juncos, had florescent bracelets stacked up to my elbows, and covered everything in stickers, Sharpie, and pot leaves.
So that was my Christianity, I didn’t like it, but I didn’t want to burn in hell. I never did change my way of creative dress or Sharpie decor. I did calm down however, after my third time through a therapeutic program. My family fell off Grandma’s radar, as much as any of us can, and she went back to driving her bipolar daughter further away. (She is Grandma’s stand by when the rest of us are doing well at hiding our issues.)
I just rolled with it after that, I was just trying to figure out what God’s plan was for me. When I was nineteen, working part time, and not doing much more than roaming through the ghost town that is downtown Des Moines on a week night at 11pm. I decided to follow my sister to Jacksonville, Florida to be in an internship at the megachurch she and her husband work for. But in true Sarah form, I opted out of that plan and moved to Riverside, a little piece of heaven in the middle of this mostly right winged city in the southern end of the bible belt.
Riverside is where I met my husband, some of my closest friends, had my daughter, and started on my path of understanding what I believe.
The group of friends my husband and I have down there is different one. Most of them grew up in small, Baptist influenced, evangelical churches and youth groups with one another, my husband included. There is a sort of stunted understanding of the world you get from only being able to view the world from one vantage point. We were all stunted. Each of my friends has at one point or another expressed this. You are told so often not trust your heart because it is deceitful, you must weigh everything against the bible, you begin to feel like you are not to be trusted. When you have disagreement with the bible, it is you, not the book, that is faulty.
Every Sunday night we (15-20 of our friends) did something called Home Group, a sort of group therapy/bible study/family dinner. My husband led it, he inherited it from a woman named Rebbecca Fuller, who to this day is a personal hero of mine. She exemplified Jesus’ message of love. She was the epitome of kindness and understanding. While she was passing away from cancer, the last few days of her life were spent in a hospice room that all 15-20 of us would not leave unless told to by her husband. Then we’d only move out to the porch and wait to be told that we could come back in.
It was awful but we made it through and were closer for it. At some point, after many discussions, the group came to a consensus. We would try to figure out what was true and what was taken out of context in the bible by our pastors, parents, and people who influenced our faith. We wanted to take ownership of our faith. Also I think we were all looking for relief from the anxiety that was caused by this seemingly hypocritical book that governed our lives. We wanted to look at the Bible from every angle. We debated, we opined, and we tried to untangle this book that has caused so many to love and to kill.
By allowing my mind to try to solve these hypocrisies, I didn’t know it but started down the path of my faith’s demise. As I read more and more the less sense all of it made to me. I prayed and tried so hard to understand the rationalization that if you don’t believe in Jesus, you will burn in hell. I could not accept it. There were also pages and pages of new questions for every one I attempted to answer with no end in sight. I am not sure why we thought we could do what countless scholars and theologians have not with their extensive knowledge.
I remember the day I finally said it out loud, I had been thinking it for a while but was never able to say it. I woke up, gathered my courage, rolled over, looked at Joe and said, ”I don’t think I believe in God. All I know right now is, everything is some how connected and it is beautiful. I don’t think I need to understand, I just want to be free to explore and never stop.” I sat for a moment in fear, waiting for lightning to strike in our bed room. When it didn’t, I peacefully got up, went to the living room, ate breakfast, and then went for a long bike ride.
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