I’ve Unfollowed the God of My Childhood

This God question is still lingering about. And it’s weighty as hell. Okay, it’s not really a GOD question. I’m all down for my higher power, which sometimes I call God & sometimes the Universe, and sometimes HEY YOU, if I’m feeling really impatient. It’s more a spiritual practice question, I suppose.

This God question is still lingering about. And it’s weighty as hell.

Okay, it’s not really a GOD question. I’m all down for my higher power, which sometimes I call God & sometimes the Universe, and sometimes HEY YOU, if I’m feeling really impatient. It’s more a spiritual practice question, I suppose.

And like all good questions, emotional dilemmas, and garden variety baggage, it stems from my childhood. Because the God I was raised with was scary as shit. He was a God to be feared. Not to be questioned. He was capable of taking things away, if I happened to love something more than I loved Him. So, I was always worried about my family. Because OF COURSE I loved the people who lived with me & cared for me more than I loved a God I couldn’t see & who seemed to be capricious as all get out. I was constantly re-praying the salvation prayer, because if I hadn’t “really meant it” God might deny me at the moment of judgement. I was afraid of God. Because I had good sense. I surely didn’t want to get smited. Or have everything I love snatched away from me. And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the weight I felt to save each and every one of my friends who hadn’t acknowledged Christ & who surely were bound for hell in the proverbial handbasket.

No wonder I was an anxious child with questionable self-worth. This God’s love totally needed to be won. And I just wasn’t sure I was up to the task. You see the problem, right? Because this God was the one I learned about in church.

This God of my childhood is so diametrically opposed to the God that’s been presented to Jane that, if I were to tell her what I’d learned about God as a kid, she’d call bullshit on it immediately. Because we’ve always attended a church where first & foremost, God is love. And, in every discussion I’ve ever had with my kid about God, I’ve shown her the God I met in AA. That God (the Universe, my Higher Power, whatever…) is big and expansive and loving. That God can’t be pinned down, pigeon-holed or co-opted. That God loves without strings or conditions. There’s no fear, because there’s nothing to be saved FROM. That God loves Jane simply because she exists. And she knows it. It’s intertwined with who she is. I see that every day, in the joy she exudes, in the choices she makes.

Jane Summer Shade Festival
Jane just being Jane.

This morning, as Jane & I were meandering toward the front door of her school, she said, “Mommy, I’m so excited.”

“About what, love?” I inquired. Because, I don’t know, she kinda said it like maybe a circus was coming through.

“I’m excited about everything about today!”

This kid. I swear. I think she knows more about God than I do. She sure does radiate joy & love. At 7, she seems to have access to an inner peace & sustainable joy that I didn’t have until my 30s. So, maybe, with this kid, it’s not so much a question about what to do on Sunday morning. Maybe it’s more about teaching her the Judeo-Christian* stories and just opening up the conversation. Being more transparent about my spirituality & inviting her to participate with me. Maybe that’s enough spiritual practice for now.

Maybe.

 

*Yes, I totally agree that stories from other traditions are important, too. But I do want her to know the stories I grew up with. So, we’ll start there.

Dear Mr. Preacher Man

I heard you yelling at me as I passed by. You wanted me to know about the saving grace of Jesus Christ, it seems. But, you know, I don’t find grace at that volume all that comforting. And I’ve never known anyone who screamed Jesus’ name to be interested in loving me. Saving me, maybe. But I don’t need to be saved. Not anymore. Not even from myself.

Dear Mr. Preacher Man:

I heard you yelling at me as I passed by. You wanted me to know about the saving grace of Jesus Christ, it seems. But, you know, I don’t find grace at that volume all that comforting. And I’ve never known anyone who screamed Jesus’ name to be interested in loving me. Saving me, maybe. But I don’t need to be saved. Not anymore. Not even from myself.

I get where you’re coming from, Mr. Preacher Man. You find power in the name of Jesus. Power to condemn. Power to save. That power feeds your (self) righteousness. I see that. I understand it. Because I’ve felt it. I’ve used Jesus as a weapon, a line in the sand to prove how much better I am. I’ve used Jesus to prove my worth… after all, in the math of salvation saved is always greater than (never equal to) unsaved.

But, Mr. Preacher Man, none of that math added up to love. Not one lick of it. Because the hard truth is that we all stumble and fall. We all need connection. We need unconditional love. We humans have never been good at unconditional love. But God is. God’s got that good, radical love that welcomes everyone. God’s love is where it’s at.

But you aren’t preaching that love, Mr. Preacher Man. I have met your Jesus—and I found him wanting. Your Jesus wants to save me from a punishing God, a God who does not find me worthy. That version of myself—and God—wounded me, isolated me, broke me.

But I have good news, Mr. Preacher Man. God is nothing like that at all. God is this revolutionary, limitless love… God is bliss and peace and breath-taking goodwill for EVERYONE. God left a piece of the divine in me—and in you, Mr. Preacher Man. Don’t believe what they’ve told you… you don’t need redemption. You are already redeemed. You are worthy. You are loved.

So, Mr. Preacher Man, I don’t need you to introduce me to Jesus Christ. I got that saving grace, friend. It was mine all along. Jesus & I, we’re in the business of love. Join us over here. Everybody’s in. (No yelling required. )

Love,

Me

 

 

Photo by DJ Paine on Unsplash

Unicorns & Sunday Mornings (Magical!)

I wish I could cause some sort of break in the time space continuum on Sunday mornings. Because I love my church–it’s one of my favorite places in the world, the place where I know I belong–but I HATE getting to church on Sunday mornings. Mainly, because my family sucks at it.

Take, for instance, Easter morning. I got up bright and early (6:30 a.m. to be exact). I made coffee, wrote for an hour (April 1 is the start of Camp NaNoWriMo. Hooray!), and watched Jane sort through her Easter goodies (and eat “just two” Sour Patch Bunnies… Easter is a time for grace–and sugar before breakfast, after all). Suddenly, it’s 9 a.m. and we need to be at church by 9:40.

Not a problem. For most people. But Jane wanted to wear a sleeveless, white eyelet dress on Easter Sunday. It was 47 degrees outside. Cue the variety of leggings and jackets to be paraded through to keep her from freezing. I also, foolishly, tried to be sensible and suggest that she wear a dress with some sleeves. You’ve thought I cancelled Easter, for God’s sake.

I finally got her to agree on leggings and a jacket that she liked–and that didn’t look too crazy–and I headed off to get dressed. I’d just finished toweling off and was standing in my robe in the bathroom when Simon stuck his head in and asked if it might be possible to leave a little earlier.

I’m sorry. WHAT?

Look, I am good at a lot of things. But I am not good at spontaneity. Or rushing. So, no. We cannot leave early, SIR.

I got dressed in record time, while slurping down my second–or third?–cup of coffee. I didn’t panic when my dress felt ever so slightly too tight. I just shimmied again. Things fell into place. More or less. I even managed matching jewelry and make-up. All in 25 minutes. The resurrection wasn’t the only miracle this Easter Sunday.

But for all the hassle that is getting to church on Sunday mornings–well, it’s worth it the minute I walk in the door.

We are a church full of unicorns. We’ve got a smattering of everybody: black, white, gay, straight, trans, cis, old, young, rich, poor. We’ve got reformed fundamentalists. We’ve got seekers. When they say “Everybody’s Welcome Here!” it’s the honest to God truth.

I left the church when I was 19. I was gay. It was 1994. And I was completely unaware that any church that affirmed gay folks existed at all. Mainline Christians were constantly spewing that “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” bullshit, and I was having none of it. I didn’t go back until I was 28. Even then, acceptance was conditional at best. It was a thin love (And I should’ve known “Love is or it ain’t. Thin love ain’t love at all.”)
I should’ve rejected it completely. But I wanted Jesus. And I thought I needed the church to get to him.

I spent years in the Methodist church (which still can’t agree on whether or not they find gay people acceptable). I learned to accept the church’s tolerance of me. I thought it was all I was worth. And my family and I moved to Atlanta. And we found this magical, unicorn church. This place where we are celebrated fully. A place my soul is renewed every single Sunday. A place where I belong.

I am a writer. I have words for almost everything. But I really don’t have words to express what this place means to me. I can tell you, though, it’s worth every damn bit of the hassle it takes to get there every Sunday morning.