Elly: "I can't accept Christianity I was raised with..."

An online reader, Elly, sent me an e-mail several weeks ago that I finally got around to responding to (sorry Elly!). It cuts to the heart of so much that so many of us have struggled with - and perhaps continue to struggle with - in "sorting out" what exactly we believe in an evolving cultural and spiritual context. Thought you might enjoy the conversation!

Thanks Elly!

* * *

Hi Peter,
I've been reading your blog from time to time, and I have some questions. If you don't have time to answer, I understand, but perhaps you could point me in the direction of other resources - blogs, websites, books, etc... I don't know many people who are... "shifted" Christians, if that makes sense - so it's hard to know who I can go to with the "heretical" questions and doubts.

Quick background: I apparently asked Jesus into my heart at age 2 1/2 after singing the "Noah's Ark" song with my mom one night and asking her if I was a "child of God." She told me I wasn't, but that I could be... so I prayed the prayer (repeating after her I guess? No memory of this... ).

I was raised with the best intentions (and have no bad feelings toward my parents - just some confusion) in an almost-cult... some kind of small, "Bible-believing" church with a super-strong emphasis on elders, deacons, family, the role of women (being lesser), all other Christians being wrong, etc...

On the plus side, I grew up with a close-knit group of kids my age who were more like siblings than anything, and since I was homeschooled and lived in the country, I guess it was good that I had church-friends.

Things began to fall apart when the leader of our "flock" was arrested for drunk-driving with a backseat full of alcohol and porn. I was about 12 years old, and most of my memories from that time were of my parents (or at least my dad) being away at church "meetings" or spending all their time talking and crying about what to do. We left, and then went to a Baptist church where I was your typical youth group kid - kissing dating goodbye, hearing pep-talks about "how great being a Christian is," but always aware of the list of "Do-Not's."

I went to college (at a very liberal public university) but was involved in an E. Free church with a large college ministry... which I eventually couldn't keep up because I couldn't do well in school while being "committed" and attending bible studies and ministry events every night of the week. And then I was marked, somehow, and obviously had some "sin problems" or I wouldn't have given up leading "growth groups." Ouch?

A serious quarter-life crisis really got the ball rolling, and my beliefs have been in major deterioration for the past year or so. I know that I will never be what it feels like I was bred to be - a typical American Evangelical Christian Wife and Mother.
Christianity kind of sickens me, and I am very sad about that. During rare visits home (I live overseas now), I feel judgment when I go to church with my family - judgment that I majored in Dance - a pagan interest for sure, judgment that I'm a vegetarian, that I practice yoga, that I'm not married yet, that I left the Midwest, and on and on. It's nothing I want anyone else to feel, and nothing I want to be a part of. Something attached to the name of Jesus should inspire love of the deepest, most joyful kind...

In the next post, we'll go into some of Elly's specific questions!
(stay tuned)


Al said...

That is just too sad, and too common--and those who are still in that kind of setting don't realize how painful (and un-Christlike) that kind of treatment is.

Peter, I know your friendship is an anchor to lots of people who are surfing some pretty rough seas. And though we are discovering that there are some mysteries and questions that aren't answerable, I'm sure you will continue to be the most important thing in this discussion--a friend.

Peter said...

You're a good friend as well, Al. I'm thankful for you.

Eruesso said...

I believe many of us who've questioned the belief system we've been raised to accept understands what Elly is going through. That feeling of alienation and separation, an outsider looking back in, with a community of people who at one point loved and accepted you.

"It's nothing I want anyone else to feel, and nothing I want to be a part of."

Pain caused by being exiled (by a group or by one's own choice) is difficult at times. Where do you run to for help, is there anyone to talk to for that community support? I'm guessing (since I'm currently going through a similar situation) that Elly has brought up heretical questions in the past (or may in the future) and has been told by her community that her questions are sinful and should repent and ask God to forgive her for doubting.

Elly, all I can tell you is that you are NOT alone. There are many of us who've questioned the beliefs of our parents and have become "shifted Christians", "exiled Christians", etc. It sounds like a part of you wants to hold on to Christianity (or even just Christ) and not the Christianity that is unwilling to bend, explore, and ask heretical questions. My personal beliefs rests on the foundation of love and compassion for our fellow man instead of loyalty to any belief system. I hope my ramblings made some sense (and hopefully also helped a bit) but you've come to the right place asking Peter for help with your "heretical" questions.

Peace and blessings.

elly said...

Thanks, Eruesso...

My perception of "community" has changed--you asked where I go for support. I live on the other side of the world, in a predominantly Buddhist country. I don't attend church here. It has been both wonderful and terrible to go through the "stripping down" of my faith in a place where I am so isolated. The distance has given me perspective that I could not have had by staying in that environment. I've become very contemplative, and have the space and time and peace to just think and observe.

The hard part is not having like-minded friends (oh, and I miss bookstores). I am literally afraid to tell my family and close friends from home where I'm at in this process. Even though I feel like I'm exactly where I need to be (despite the discomfort and the gnawing questions that keep me awake at night), I am guessing that they would freak out or put me on the gossip--er, prayer chain.

So that's why I'm here, because it's somewhere I can exist in all my scandalous doubt, and a place I can access even from the other side of the world.

Wo ai nimen! (Love you all)

Rhiannon Y Orizaga said...

Wow, Elly thanks for sharing. I will pray for you on your journey. Frankly, I'm glad that you seem to be on a journey rather than stuck back in 1861 with the fundamentalists... I kid, I kid (sorta). I was raised by 2 liberal-ish Christians, but not in the Sunday-school culture. I don't get the uber-conservative thing either. Since becoming a Christian (1997) I have wavered between a public faith (fostered by my conservative peeps) and a more loving, tolerant faith (a la my parents). Sometimes it is hard to choose sides because you know you shouldn't have to.

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