The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up (Your Faith)
Every evangelical cliché you can think of – that was my childhood. I was home-schooled all but one year; I went to Sunday school and Worship every single Sunday (plus youth group on Wednesdays!). I bopped along to DC Talk and Audio Adrenaline in the church van on the way to summer camps in Kentucky. I mean you name it, I was into it: pro-life road-side protests, young earth creation seminars, floor-length denim skirts, Bible Baseball, Adventures in Odyssey. I wore a purity ring ya’ll.
Oh man, I think I just broke out in hives.
My life was humming along (probably to Sonic Flood) just fine until I turned sixteen. In the span of about a year, I lost my virginity to a boy who promptly dumped me for “causing him to stumble,” my mentor/father figure died of a sudden heart attack, my actual father had a psychotic break, and my best friend told me he was gay.
Aaaaaaaaaand the walls came a-tumb-aling DOWN.
Actually, it was less like a cataclysmic breakdown of faith and more like walking into a room to find your parents fucking. I just slowly closed the door on that part of the life and backed the hell away. It no longer made any sense to oppose LGBTQ+ rights or blindly submit to the authority of men when they were clearly unqualified to lead (I also had a niggling suspicion that my value as a person was not housed exclusively in my vagina).
For the next six or seven years, I had nothing to do with church or spirituality. If this was a church testimony, this would be the part where I talk about how empty my life was – how I kept trying to “fill the void” with alcohol and sex. But really, my life without God was… just fine, kinda fun even. God and I were on a break – and I honestly didn’t notice the lack. The only time I ever felt any sense of loss or sadness was studying abroad in Europe. Standing in the gorgeous old cathedrals, I missed the sweeping grandeur and glory of an ancient faith. At the time, I still only equated Christianity with bigotry and misogyny so I had no interest in returning to the fold. That art though…
I moved in with people who were a whole different brand of Christian. They went to a little home church that had developed a close relationship to a Jewish Renewal community. I didn’t get involved in the church part but I did go to several celebrations at the Synagogue. Somewhere in the middle of dancing around with a Torah to the Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love,” it occurred to me that maybe religion didn’t have to be all rigid and shitty. The Rabbis there (2/3 of whom were women! Can I get a hell YEA?!) spoke of a Holy Presence that was Love above all else. They described Truth as facets of an enormous diamond. One person may see one side while another sees a completely different one, but they are both true, both part of the same gem.
At the same time, my roommates turned me on to books by Brian McLaren and Rob Bell. I read “Velvet Elvis” and “A New Kind of Christianity” which gave me permission to separate the parts of religion that I found valuable from the giant wad of Evangelical nonsense. Then I read “Love Wins” and it felt like letting out a breath I had been holding in for ten years. The whole idea of Hell as a place of eternal conscious torment is abhorrent to me. It reeks of manipulation and social control and is utterly incompatible with faith in a good and loving God. What a gift to learn I could discard it wholesale while hanging on to Christ!
For a while, I identified only as Jewish. It was so much easier than trying to explain being a Christian who doesn’t believe in hell, or hate anyone or vote republican. ‘Cause what would people think if they heard I was a Jesus Freak??? (Sorry, it just comes out sometimes)
Nowadays, I’m more able to have that conversation in safe and productive ways. I’m more comfortable with who I am and what I believe and can let go of the bitterness I once had toward organized religion. Over the last few years I’ve gradually “Marie Kondo-ed” my faith – keeping what sparks joy and for the parts that don’t work, I say thank you and gently remove them from cluttering up my life.