Goodness isn’t a paint by number.

There are days when it is in the forethought of my mind that I have left the Evangelical pattern of religion for good reason.  Usually I don’t think on it much, because I wasn’t super happy to leave it.  I desperately wanted it to work. I think as much as I wanted a fresher version of it, I never intended to leave it, until I made the decision to be intentional about leaving it behind about 8 years ago.

The reason I’m thinking about that this morning, is reading a friend’s blog post about struggling with not feeling good enough.  I recall that feeling well.  I constantly felt like a complete failure, that I could never do enough, and my shame was consuming. Altar calls did not seem to alleviate this feeling, this knowledge that I wasn’t not perfected in my faith.  I feel for her keenly as she struggles with it and puts out her intentions to recognize that she cannot be and needs grace.  I know that feel, to quote the current vernacular.

I don’t feel like that for the most part anymore.  Not because I’m amazing, but because of an intentional shift in my thinking about how loved and valued I am by my Creator. Raised by Believers, taught by the church, I did not really believe that God loved me until I was in my 20’s, when some people who care about me sent me on a Emmaus walk.  (Trust me, the irony of a program being what got across the love of God is not lost on me, but rather illuminates what can happen when the heart of a program is for love.)  I’m grateful for the good I learned in evangelical circles, but there is so much “un-programming” I feel like I had to do.  That I was brainwashed to feel like a dirty awful sinner all the time, and had to remember that I am a person and I’m flawed and messy but also beautiful and strong.  I still recognize that I make choices that separate me from my Creator (which is really what sin is),  and repent of them when I become aware of it.  But there is something about living your life in joy and celebration that lends itself to good choices, that viewing the world as a bunch of “no” doesn’t provide.

One of the things that I love about the church my husband and I sometimes attend, is that they seem okay with our sometimes.  If we want to be more involved, they’re happy to let us be.  If we don’t show up for a month, when we get back it’s like we never left.  Part of how we chose our church is that if we looked around, they were a church in the community that people said good things about… how loving and kind and helpful and involved they were.  We never saw them telling people they were bad, just serving.  And not “we will serve you if you listen to our pre-rehearsed commercial about why God is Awesome”  but rather “here, let me serve you.”  It makes me happy to serve… there’s no anxiety or worry about “Did I save enough people today?”  because there is an understanding that only Yeshua saves,  I’m just his disciple.  I’m off the hook for the redemption, I just have to be an example of the redemption, and somehow that’s beautiful.

Sometimes I think I miss the community, but what I actually miss was a sense of belonging.  I can’t really say that the community was really great in evangelicalism, everyone was trying to be a certain thing and if they weren’t trying to hide it or repent of it or kill it off… even if their different thing wasn’t a sin but just a different-ness.  This, understandably, was Very Hard for me, because I can’t play normal for very long without literally losing my mind.   But I wanted to belong, and it was basically like highschool (only I refused to play in highschool but embraced the game in “church”) :  do the popular thing, don’t let people know that you are weird, if you have to be weird just repackage it to look like a new version of the status quo, don’t dress in a way that makes people have to think (we wear pink on Wednesdays),  and make sure that your song lyrics stay pretty much the same no matter what.  And there’s this headiness from belonging that will take you through it like a high, but somewhere, in a thinking persons head, you have to be thinking “Is this all there is?”  It’s so boring.  You don’t know anyone who isn’t like you, unless you have tried in an artificial way to meet them so you can “witness”.  You don’t live life, you live the “Church” 2-4 days a week, every week… goodness forbid that you have time for a life outside, why, you might get Ideas. Evangelicalism was always feeling “Good” while knowing that inside you were rotten to the core and should strive to be better.  I don’t miss it.

If I sound like I’m being harsh and judgy, it’s because I am.  I am still angry to see this one weird interpretation of scripture being all that people see when they look at churches.  I’m still angry that my friends put themselves through this kind of sadomasochistic wringer every week.  I’m still upset that grace was hidden from me and I was complicit in it. And, I admit, I’m angry it didn’t work.  It would be so easy to follow the rules and stand on platitudes and know that you will be saved by it,… it’s so much harder to walk up a narrow steep path looking at all the beautiful treacherous things and work out how you’re gonna make it to the summit with fear and wonder.

Hoping to soften my anger with compassion.