i can still remember confessing to my mom that i'd been listening to 106.9 khits (with headphones) on my boombox in my room. it was the only religious rule i couldn't help but break. it was the era of destiny's child, and "say my name" was the best song in the world! suprisingly, all i got was a subtle threat to have my boombox taken away, and that was it. so of course i went on "sinning" and listening to the greatest hits of the late 90s/early 2000s.
unfortunately, a lot of my early years were riddled with reminders of things i wasn't allowed to do, including but not limited to:
- going to the movies (i saw my first movie in theaters my senior year of high school. going to the movies still feels kind of weird, tbh.)
- listening to music that wasn't church music (lol woops)
- wearing pants (it was mostly denim skirts that went to my shoes...which is why you will never see me in a denim skirt)
- using nail polish that wasn't clear nail polish (painting your nails is the best thing, ever. so many wasted years!)
- wearing jewelry (nothing like getting your ears pierced at 20, at walmart)
- going swimming (because swimwear was not modest!)
- reading harry potter (bc witchcraft, guys. duh)
- watching tv (we totally had a tv. we just didn't talk about it at church)
- wearing short sleeves (this one was a loophole. i could wear short sleeves at school, but not at church)
- no dancing (one of my life's greatest joys, now)
- no playing sports (some bull about teaching your children not to compete...? except i knew a lot of boys at my church who definitely still played sports. no girls though, bc pants and just general sexism. i definitely would've played soccer and tennis if those rules didn't exist)
the list goes on for another mile or so. these were the biggest deals to me as a kid, though--being blocked off from some of life's richest experiences and simplest joys because people were too busy thinking everything fun was sin. another little flicker of rebellion was when i wore glitter nail polish at my bff's 10th birthday party. i knew i would get in trouble, but we were playing spice girls and i was scary spice and i obviously needed glitter nail polish to complete the ensemble! the next morning at church i frantically scrubbed it off in the sink before anyone saw me. poor kid. i didn't even know to use nail polish remover. experiences like this one taught me to be ashamed for being a person, having desire for anything fun, etc. it's something i still carry, but i'm slowly learning to shed.
as a result of a belief system that swallowed everything identity gives to a person, i felt completely detached from my physical body and every other part of my being. my examples of what i should be were church leaders who were also taught to be ashamed of their bodies and sexualities, and some made it their duty to shame people from the pulpit about their bodies and sexualities--some of which were in the pews, sitting ducks. i remember looking into the crowd and watching the accused stare back at the pulpit, blankly. they didn't deserve that. i also envied them. "they may be going to hell," i thought, "but at least they only have to come to church once a year." i thought it was nuts they came at all, when they didn't have to. i would hear church members say, "people just don't want to come to church or be saved, anymore!" followed by a guilty plea and a promise of an eternity in flames if they didn't come to the altar. you could be safe from hell after death, but pay for it with a hellish, regimented life on earth. the fear mongering didn't work. it rarely does.
fast forward to my junior year of college--i am still blindly following the rules of my old church but gaining a little freedom in the less soul-crushing, still pretty conservative church i attended. i break down one day, and explain to my roommates that i am having some sort of faith crisis, that i can't keep living out of obligation. it's too painful. i can't digest the contorted perspective of god i've been fed and can i PLEASE just wear jeans, already?? i wanted to love my life, and yet i felt like a lazy traitor for not hating my life to please god. luckily, my wonderful, compassionate roommates explained that god wouldn't be furious at me if i wore pants or listened to coldplay, and i decided to believe them. that summer i freely listened to all the music i'd listened to guiltily, before. that fall i purchased my first pair of jeans, and on a late weeknight those same friends took me to walmart to get my ears pierced. (see below) i started wearing makeup and wore a strapless dress for the first time (see above) and did all the things i'd wanted to do my entire life, like wearing shorts in public and playing soccer.
now fast forward to the past 6 months. 10 years after the first time, i felt an intense need to detach from church. why was this sort of thing happening again? i needed to be close to god now, more than ever because i was about to take a huge leap and move to nyc. (being close to god and going to church aren't the same, btw) i ignored it as much as i could, spending months in pursuit of the right church to spend my remaining months in oklahoma. i tried really hard, but bible belt church culture wore. me. down. the pinhole projection of god through whichever lens of christianity i'd been viewing him was proving insufficient again, and eventually i stopped going to church. i felt like a lazy traitor again, but sitting in a pew for fear of guilt doesn't hold up forever--eventually you decide to stop fearing for fear's sake. i haven't been to church in a few months, and honestly...it feels like a breath of fresh air. at first all these church guilt alarms went off, but that was eventually drowned out by hunger for the truth.
i think 20-year-old me, with her freshly pierced ears, would be terrified to hear some of the questions i have about god now. this time around i feel free to have doubts and questions without fear of a trap door opening below me. i've heard two things about this doubting "phase" (if that's what you want to call it): that you should never doubt because if you do, god might decide to get mad at you and never forgive you, and send you to hell. (lol no. jeez, chill out) and the second one--that doubt is healthy, and you have to go through it to see what you truly believe. i'm in the thick of the latter one. some things take a long time to unwind, as they should. all the lies i was told about god, all the things i missed out on, were like a tall building that collapsed on top of me. i still have trouble separating god from feeling trapped under rubble, and i probably will for a really long time, but now the excavation begins. i've discovered that there are countless people who've also been served a grotesque view of god and just want the truth, whatever that means to them--i feel most seen around them.
i fully expect to discover a full, whole version of god, who cannot be boxed or contained or viewed only through my projector. i honestly hope i don't even recognize it when i see it. 10 years after the first time, a lot more awake and a lot hungrier for life, i find myself in a strangely familiar place--a saturn's return, and my heart is open.
if you need them, here are a some resources that are helping me:
- the airing of grief podcast by derek webb
- good christian fun podcast by kevin t. porter & caroline ely
- searching for sunday by rachel held evans
- the song, looking out by brandi carlile