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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

I Think Christianity Is An Exclusive Club

To be a christian is to be a member of an exclusive club.  A club that I don't belong to.  I've never been one for clubs anyway.  I've always had a difficult time fitting in.  Either I didn't dress right, talk right, make the right amount of money, was not attractive enough, etc.
Having just said that, there is just one church where I truly felt like I belong but unfortunately, the military yanked us away from that.  Ever since then, I have felt very out of place at all of the churches that we have attended.  As of now, I only attend for the sake of the family.  I don't partake in any of the extra activities unless it involves my children.  My children enjoy going so I'm not going to take that away from them.  I'll let them make their own decision about religion as they get older.
I've done a lot of reflecting this past year on what may have led up to my religious "crisis" as some of my religious friends have referred to it as.  I really think it all started during my childhood.  I never thought I would reach this point but now that I have my own children, I am determined that my children will not experience what I did when it comes to religion.  Now don't get me wrong, there are some good memories but many of the bad experiences out-shadow the good. I must face the fact that my early religious experiences have shaped who I am today.  Now, one might find it ironic that I would even take my children to church.  It is.  But things have changed over the years and more than likely, my children will not have the same negative experiences as I.
Without going into too much detail (well, I'll try not to), I will start by saying that my first church experience involved going to a Pentecostal church (Assembly of God, to be exact).  I was just a little girl when Mother started to attend church.  I think it was right after we moved to North Carolina and one of our new neighbors talked Mother into attending church.  Life changed for her.  And I would like to say that it was a positive change for the first several years.  As a very young little girl, I remember positive experiences.  But things started to change as I got older.  There were so many things that happened at that particular church that it would just be way too much to cover here.  There was a lot of brainwashing going on.  And a LOT of judgment. I always felt that I was the biggest sinner of all and that God would not listen to me whenever I sinned.  As a little girl, I literally feared God and could not fathom how he would even listen to me at all if I sinned. That was just how I was taught.  Or at least, that's how I interpreted it.  I remember one time saying "heck"  at some sort of church event and the entire room of women became silent.  Even as a little girl, I remember feeling like I had just committed the worst sin ever.  I remember hearing the preacher preach against premarital sex, alcohol, cigarettes, cursing, wearing shorts (women), and so much more.  Every time I wore shorts, I always wondered if I was condemned to hell.  (I remember a lady from church saw me, in my own neighborhood, wearing shorts and she chastised me) My dad was an alcoholic and he cussed a lot and I always believed he was condemned to hell because of that. I lived in fear for so much of my life that I was going to go to hell. Maybe that is part of my anxiety problem. Fear.
I remember that although I was a participant in many of the youth activities, I never really felt like I belonged to the club.  I was always picked on for something. Whether it be my coke-bottle-thick glasses or my clothes, I was picked on.  Sometimes the kids seemed really nice to me and at other times, they were downright mean.  I had this one friend who was always nice to me and I got many of her hand-me-down clothes for which I was so appreciative.  But I never really felt like I measured up to her.  Even though she was just slightly younger than me, I looked up to her because she had such loving parents who made sure all her needs were met.
Speaking of clothes, Mother was not good about meeting my clothing needs.  She was just too cheap and counted on others to give me their hand-me-downs.  As a result, I often wore mismatched or old clothes.  This always bothered me and I knew others looked down on me for it.  Mother's son, however, got new clothes because he didn't have anybody to give him free stuff.  I remember at one point that I had just one dress for church.  Wearing pants to church was a no-no at the time.  I didn't even have any dress shoes even though I begged Mother to buy me just a cheap pair.  Nope.  So, I was forced to wear this dress and tennis shoes to church.  The dress had a tie-back.  I remember one Sunday during Sunday school, when we were dismissed I got up to leave and the chair came up with me.  The boys sitting behind me had taken the tie to my dress and tied it to the chair.  I was crushed. That is one memory that was seared into my brain because it showed just how worthless I was at that place.  But that was just the kind of crap that I had to put up with.  I often suffered in silence because I knew nothing would be done if I had said anything.  I was not a favorite and therefore, I was unimportant.
I remember going to camp with these same kids.  I loved going to camp but only because it got me away from my home environment.  I never hung around with the kids from my church, though.  I had to find my own new friends.  I was very insecure and that made it difficult for me to forge new friendships.  The insecurity only got worse as I got older.
The adults were no better.  Again, sometimes they seemed nice to me and other times, I was just a burden. Oftentimes, if something bad happened, I was looked at as the guilty party.  Perhaps that is one reason why I have such a guilt complex still today.  I was a good kid and tried my best to please people.  I stayed out of trouble but because I looked dumb and oftentimes didn't fight for myself, I was the easy target for blame.
There were a couple of times that I tried to participate in fund-raisers for Missionettes or whatever else there was and I was not allowed to.  The reason?  Because of Mother's son.  He had a history of stealing and lying so therefore, I was deprived of participating in certain events due to his behavior.
There was a guy at this church who I felt was making some moves on me.  He would give me hugs in such a way that made me feel uncomfortable.  I knew this feeling very well as this was not the first experience that I had encountered in my young life.  So, after a couple of episodes from this man (who was very well-liked by the way), I tried to tell somebody.  As usual, I was just trying to cause trouble.  I was told that he was just trying to show me Jesus' love and that he wasn't trying to harm me.  Yeah, right!  I heard from somebody else in recent years about this same thing happening to them.  But that person was very special to everyone so I'm sure she was believed and not accused of trying to stir trouble.
I think I was around 14 or 15 years old when Mother quit going to church.  She started reverting back to her old ways of smoking, drinking, and even dating other men while she was separated from her husband.  I still attended church but I always felt like my family was being judged severely and that we were all condemned to hell.  As a young teen, I was very sensitive to other people's comments and maybe a little too sensitive but this is what I perceived from others at church.
One may ask why I even continued going to church.  That's a simple answer.  The main reason was that it was better than staying home even if it meant that I wasn't treated with much respect.  Also, I was so afraid, due to that preacher's sermons, that if I did not go to church, then I was going to burn in hell. As a young person who had known nothing else in regard to churches, I really believed that.  After all, the preacher often chastised the Catholics, the Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, the Mormons, etc.  I really believed the only way to heaven was to continue to attend this sick church and continue to be brainwashed.  I really believed that if I wanted to be healed of something, the only way was to have this preacher lay hands on me and not by another preacher at another church.
I know this sounds like a lot of BS but unless one was there, one cannot truly understand how severely many of us were affected by this church.  And I'm not the only one who agrees on this.
During my last year of high school, I finally broke away and started to attend another church whenever I could get a ride there.  I had such skewed idea of religion that at first, I felt guilty and as if I was sinning when I left this other church but I gradually learned that I was going to be okay as long as I went to a God-fearing church that believed in the Bible.
After I moved to Florida, I started to attend another Assembly of God church but soon switched and started attending a Church of God with my aunt in Tampa.  It was okay but again, it seemed that if you didn't dress right, talk right, have the right money, weren't pretty enough, etc., then you weren't as special.  But because I didn't want to go to hell, I continued to go to church. I remember at one point that I was going to go to hell, that I asked for salvation nearly every single day.  As you can probably already see, I was so messed up when it came to religion.  I really didn't know what was the truth and what was going to keep me from going to hell.  I was in my very late teens to very early 20s.  And this is around the time when my anxiety disorder really picked up and I started to struggle with panic attacks.  I really think the extreme fear of going to hell had a lot to do with this as strange as that may seem.
I continued to attend church with my aunt for a few years until I broke from that and started to try other churches.  I finally ended up at a very large church in Clearwater, Florida where I attended for nearly 10 years.  I met some great friends there and for that I am grateful.  Even when I struggled through dark times in my life, there were a handful of people who really did care.  But looking back at that church, it had many problems.  There are just too many things to go into detail.  But when you consider that divorce was rampant there even though it was preached against, then something was severely wrong.  And right around the time that finally decided to quit there, the pastor ended getting divorced himself.  Something that he preached against and here he was doing it. That preacher had way too much pride, in my opinion.  One memory is forever seared in my mind that affected how I perceived this "man of god".  This girl, who was slightly developmentally disabled, was so proud of this framed religious print that she bought for her little apartment.  She brought it to church to show this pastor, her pastor. I witnessed her waiting for her turn to speak to this "man of god" and to show him her new print.  As soon as it was her turn, she walked up to him.  As soon as he noticed what she was going to do, he waved her off and went immediately to the next more important person to talk to.  That greatly affected me and made me think more deeply about this preacher's comments that the "church is a hospital".  In my mind, what he meant by this comment was that the church was a place for everybody; young, old, frail, strong, rich, poor, mentally ill, developmentally disabled, eccentrics, substance abusers, gay or straight, etc.  I don't know what this preacher really meant by that comment but it was quite apparent that this young girl was not very important to him.  My heart was crushed for her.
Now you might have noticed that I mentioned gay/straight.  I believe gays should also be welcome in churches.  I don't believe living in a gay lifestyle is moral but just like a drug abuser is immoral and is welcome to attend a church, then a gay person should be just as welcome.  What's that saying?  Isn't it "hate the sin, love the sinner?"  So there you go.  I don't agree with the gay lifestyle but I will not hate the gay person.  I have loved ones who are gay and they know my feelings on it but that I will never forfeit my relationship with them.  But they understand that I do not agree with that part of their lives.
As I got more into my adult years, I started to make my own decisions without as much influence from others in regard to religion.  I just got sick of other religious zealots trying to cram their own philosophies into my brain. I got sick of preachers getting into the "prosperity gospel".  Oh, I could get into some heated discussions over this.  Suffice it to say that I strongly feel that people need to take care of their own basic financial needs before they even consider sending any of their money to these money grubbers, especially the ones on TV. 
There is so much more that I could share but I will fast forward to after I got married and we started to attend an awesome church in Brandon, Florida.  The pastor of that particular church was the untmost best pastor I have ever experienced.  He was a true man of integrity.  He loved everyone, including the down and out, the gays, the poor people, EVERYONE.  But as much as he loved everyone, he preached straight from the Bible which meant that he preached against immoral lifestyles such as substance abuse, homosexuality, gambling, lying, cheating, etc.  And he did with LOVE.  LOVE.  He loved people.  Perhaps this is why the large gay group in Tampa showed such compassion when Pastor Pollock was tragically killed a couple of years ago.  Well, most of them showed compassion.  I remember Pastor Pollock as a man who did not put himself above others (like so many pastors in my past).  I remember him as a family man, a man of such integrity that I had utmost respect for him.  This man was just very unique and very special to all of us in his congregation.  I remember Pastor Pollock blending with the congregation on Sunday mornings and during the greeting time, he made his way around to as many people as possible to shake hands.  He was a friend to EVERYBODY.  Or least he tried to be.  He didn't put himself on a pedestal like so many pastors past. Pastor Forrest was well-loved and highly regarded. I so looked forward to Sundays because I just loved his sermons.  After the military moved us to the St. Louis metro area, we knew that we would not find another church like it.  No church is the same as another, we know.  I felt like I left a piece of me in Brandon. I missed my church terribly.
Unfortunately, two and half years ago, Pastor Forrest along with one of his sons, was killed in a plane crash.  I remember falling to my knees in prayers when I got the news that he was missing.  I begged God that he would be found alive.  He had a wife and five other children who needed him.  Surely, God wouldn't take such an incredibly special man from his family?  I remember the news that his plane and his body along with his son's body was found.  I refused to believe the news.  I just could not believe that God would take this man away from his family and from the thousands of other people who loved him.  I hardly knew the man personally but I felt like I lost an awesome brother.
Looking back, this is about the time that I started to have many questions about god but was unable to find answers.  Then this event just threw me in a tailspin about my faith.  I just could not understand how a loving god could take this man and his very young innocent son away from their family.  The loss of this young child so tragically just shook me to the core. Any loss like that shakes me but this really affected me because this is a child that I had the privilege to meet.  It causes me to become anxious about losing my own children.  Like I said, I have an anxiety disorder.  A year ago in November, a good friend of mine lost one of her sons in an accident.  I'll never forget because just the night before that (actually just hours), she brought her little girl to Jackie's 5th birthday party.  We talked about E and how he was starting to turn his life around and was going to start college in another state near the grandparents.  I was so happy for my friend, S.  Little did we know that just hours later, she would get the phone call that every mother dreads.  Again, I just could not believe how god would take such a young life away.  It shook me and caused me more anxiety about my own children. Again.  This latest event made me question my faith even more.  I just cannot understand how a loving god can take away such precious assets, lives who have potential to make a huge difference in so many people's lives.  I still often think of S and how happy she was that night at Jackie's birthday party.  And then just hours, her world was turned upside down.  I just don't understand it.  At all.
So, in the past couple of years, I really don't know where I stand in regard to faith.  I believe there is something out there.  Just not sure what at the moment.  A lot of people ask me about my faith but they don't seem to really care.  Their response? "Well, I'll be praying for you."  Good, I appreciate the thought.  Unfortunately, I don't believe most people are sincere enough to do it. 
I know this probably sounds like a lot of rambling and some things are probably repeated.  But here you have it, for those who want to know why I struggle with faith.  There is so much to this but it's just too much to write here.  I don't want to bore anyone but perhaps this will provide some answers to those who question my faith.

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