How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand, there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep…that have taken hold.
– Frodo, The Return of the King (film)
I tend to express my exit from Christianity as a single moment in time when I threw up my hands, exclaimed, “Enough’s enough” and strode out of the church without looking back.
(Actually, in my fantasy version I turn over a few tables, shout out a prophecy or two regarding hypocrisy, throw open the church doors, and stride confidently into the great, wide world while all the people I left behind weep in shame…)
The truth is I didn’t stride out into the “great, wide world”.
I’ve really been spending my time blundering about in the wilderness. I’ve gone just far enough out that I don’t really have a good sense of where I’m at, but I haven’t been quite brave enough to lose sight of my old “home” either. I’ve always kept the Mennonite church in my peripheral vision as I wander around. Not quite found. Not quite lost.
Most people think I abandoned God and Christianity when I was 18 and went through that whole being stalked and having my life threatened thing. I didn’t abandon God. I never abandoned God. Why would I abandon God when it wasn’t God but the people in my church who left me to fend for myself?
For a while I really did try to stay. At a new church, I even joined a Sunday School group for “damaged” people, but found out pretty quickly I was too damaged for the damaged to handle. I wanted to be a part of the church, but the church didn’t want me. I come as-is and that didn’t fit into one of the church’s neat little boxes of “good Christian girl” or “salvation project”. I was cynical and angry and, worst of all, I was authentic. I never hid the fact that I was hurt and that wasn’t welcome.
Over the next 13 years, I attended churches here and there. All of them were some flavor of Mennonite or Evangelical… churches I understood, but churches that had no room for me.
I read Christian books, trying to find some loophole I could jump through so that I wouldn’t have to deny the things I knew to be true. I read more of the Bible and gave it more study than I had when I was still formally involved with Christianity.
I just didn’t call myself a Christian. I didn’t think I was one.
About a year ago, I visited yet another evangelical non-denominational church. It was familiar… and that made it unsafe. At least, it felt unsafe to me. Because it’s so easy to get sucked into the hype. It’s so easy to go back to old ways. It’s so easy to take that familiar blanket and cover my head with it so I won’t have to see the monsters. But, that’s dangerous to me. That’s dangerous to my family.
The next Sunday, I visited a Lutheran church. There was no hype. There was just worship. After the service there were people who invited me to have coffee with them. We sat down and I heard about all kinds of things that were wrong with their church… with themselves. These were real people who didn’t coat their conversation with Christianese platitudes. “Maybe,” I thought, “maybe there’s room for me at a table like this.” I had only intended to visit that one Sunday, but I kept going back when I was able. I wasn’t just tolerated, I was welcome.
At the same time, I started delving into history a bit more. That’s when I realized I’d actually been a Christian all along. But… what kind of Christian?
My father grew up Lutheran/Methodist. My mother grew up Catholic. I mostly grew up Mennonite/Evangelical with a dash of fundamentalism. My parents had their reasons for converting away from Catholicism and mainline Protestantism. They were valid reasons and I won’t say they were wrong. They couldn’t stay where they were and continue to grow as Christians.
But, neither can I.
I jokingly call myself “Menno-lite”. (Menno-lite: All the pacifism, none of the fundamentalism.) I’ve toyed with the idea of just saying I’m an Anabaptist, except that wouldn’t really be true either.
I no longer line up with some fundamental Anabaptist/Mennonite doctrines. Aside from the theological differences, there is too much anger, fear, frustration, and anxiety that I associate with Mennonites and Evangelicalism. I don’t feel it’s a safe or healthy spiritual environment for me. It can be for others, just not for me.
I can’t go back. I have no idea where I’m going, but I’m moving forward, further into the wilderness. But, that’s OK because that’s where we go to meet God (or get eaten by bears… one or the other).