Posts tagged ‘Christianity’

November 16, 2011

No fear in love

A few weeks ago I met a man who is a healer. He teaches yoga, works with essential oils, and leads a meditation group. I met him at an essential oils class. I told him that I have been looking for a meditation group so I can go deeper in my own contemplation, and he invited me to join. Then he gave me a hug. In that hug I could feel a love so deep it scared me shitless, because there was a great power with it. I knew that if I connect with this man, he will influence me in a profound way, but I have not emailed him back to say if I am going to come.

I have been thinking about why I have been so scared of this man and of what he represents. Today I decided that it is because I was taught to fear. From the time I was born, I was told to be afraid, very afraid of anything not connected to the bible. If I wander away from the bible, my parents and religious leaders proclaimed, I will surely fall into dangerous and deceitful doctrine that will rob me of my relationship with God, my salvation, and my ability to see the truth. I will be overtaken by demons, lead others to hell, and be eternally tormented in hell myself. God will send me a “strong delusion to believe a lie.” This, I was told, would be the worst thing that could ever happen to me.

Even when I learned about contemplative prayer, I was told that it could be safely practiced only by Christians. “Only Christians,” my teachers told me, “have God’s spirit inside, so when you contemplate, you are gazing at the God who dwells within.” They didn’t quite say what would happen if you tried to contemplate without being a Christian, but they implied that all sorts of bad things could happen because if you are not contemplating within the safety of Christianity, you open yourself to demons who can take possession of you and try to destroy you.

Though I long ago began leaving the belief system my parents handed down, the fear they and other religious leaders engendered in me has lingered. I have believed in this fear, and it has kept me many times from peaking over certain walls. Or if I did peak, it was with much trepedition, and I had to ignore or work around the fear in order to cross over the wall. Now I am standing on this precipice looking down. I know in my heart that if I continue moving forward, I will have to face this fear head on. I will back down or fear will back down. I can’t keep dancing with fear, moving around it or ignoring it, because the next step is to do exactly the things I have been afraid of my whole life.

The funny thing about this fear is that it is actually disguised as love. If you love someone, you will do anything you can to keep them from experiencing eternal torment. Also, it would be very unloving of me to leave behind a belief system that could keep me and my loved ones from hell. Yet at the same time, when it starts to feel like fear is what is holding me back from living a life of love, I realize that fear is anti-love. It is not unloving to leave behind a belief system that could keep me and my loved ones from hell when I don’t know that belief system to be true, and the very foundation of it is fear, not love.

Thankfully, there’s a bible verse I can rely on to set myself free from all this torment of being afraid of leaving behind the bible. 1 John 4:18. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” All the things I am afraid of have to do with punishment. Fear says, if I try out this other spirituality, I will be punished by all these horrible things happening to me. God will punish me by leaving me. How sick is that? What if instead of hanging onto these threads of fear that have promised to keep me safe my whole life, I simply let go, ask for Love, and let my heart lead me to the places where love might finally have room to grow.

October 22, 2011

Beliefs that stop intimacy

This morning I was listening, and I heard, you do not need to wear the label “Christian” to know me, and I breathed a sigh of relief, because I am so confused about what to believe, but I also heard that I don’t really have to believe anything to be with God. And I remembered an old Jason Upton sermon where he said “Be is the beginning of belief.” I have focused and worried so much about what I do and don’t believe, but in reality, I don’t think it really matters. It is far more important to be with God than to have a mental picture figured out about it all. And I’m so shocked at myself because of how many beliefs I have let fade away, even the ones I held to the strongest.

Yesterday I was listening to a Darin Hufford podcast about heaven, and he and his friend sounded so positive about heaven. I think I started letting go of my belief in heaven about the same time as my belief in hell. I do have a hope of eventually being one with God, and I hope for things to get better on earth, but I really do not have any idea what heaven might be like. In fact, I am probably more scared about going to hell since I have let go of the label Christian. But actually, that label feels like such a chain on my soul, and I just cannot hold onto it any longer. I think it is because if I wear that label, I feel that I have to convince other people that that is the truth. I cannot be free to just be who I am with others. And I and many other people are so turned off by people who have no interest in relationship other than to convert, that I just cannot be that person anymore.

I finally have a friend who does not believe in God at all. I could never have done that in my Christianese days. I could not have actually been real with her or held a deep friendship because I would have had to convince her to accept all my beliefs to save her soul. But isn’t it odd to believe that what a person does or does not mentally assent to will damn them to hell for eternity or allow them to live uttur bliss for that same eternity? It is so weird, because there are so many things that can cause or help us to believe or not believe something. I think my friend does not believe in God because she has no awareness of God and no experience of God. The Christian way is to take a person like this and scare them about hell and convince them about the Bible until the person “accepts” Christ, even if she still has no experience of God. I think that’s criminal. I think Christianity claims to be about introducing people to God, but for the most part, it is about introducing people to religion. And while I had a lot of experiences with God when I was practicing that religion, these have become very confused in my head and often intermingled with all the religious b.s., so that I can’t really hold onto any of it anymore.

Of course, the last several years of being in Christianity, I was deeply distrustful of religion. Groups I joined felt the same. And even though there was a vast difference between these churches and more religious ones I attended as a child, there was still a lack of intimacy there that went so deep I could not stand it.

In fact, I think lack of intimacy is what has driven me away from Christianity. The belief that your way is right and people who don’t believe it are going to hell forces you to hold back part of yourself from others. My own mother flat out told me that she cannot have real fellowship with me because I don’t believe the way she does. There is always necessarily an undercurrent of her wanting to convert me. As long as she wants to convert me, she cannot know me for who I am. She cannot accept me as I am because she wants to change me. No matter how close we may seem in one moment, in another her religiousness pops back up and she proves once again that she does not know me as she tries to lecture me and change me and I must put up walls once again.

But what about the new age ideas about God being this spirit that flows through all humans? It feels like a river that we can tap into at any time. I have a hope that this spirit that was in Jesus who said “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but by me” is really this spirit of God that flows through all people. It is the divine consciousness or whatever-you-want-to-call-it that anyone can tap into through meditation. It is this spirit of God that brings people to God, whether or not you put some religious name on it.

In fact, I really think that all this naming and labeling of things is really a human invention. It keeps us from God and from the God inside each other, because every label serves to divide us and put us into little boxes that we cannot get out of.

Perhaps all that crying out to God I did in my early 20’s has led to my heart no longer being able to stand all the devision that keeps me from being one with God and especially from being one with other people. Though I never expected my prayers to lead me out of Christianity, I wouldn’t be surprised if that is the very thing that did it.

I also think that religion does not foster intimacy simply because religious activities do not naturally lead to intimacy with others. That is not their purpose, and it is a rare thing when it happens, and one must go outside of the religious activities to find it.

June 27, 2011

Why I stopped going to church

So often in life I have found myself in bondage to something I “should” do. A big one for me has been church. I was raised with the idea that I not only should but must go to church, and not just now and then but to every meeting of my church, and not just any church, but the particular one my parents believed has the “truth.”

Although I left the church I was raised in years ago, I could not get away from the command that I must be a part of some church. Yet my heart screamed an emphatic NO! The mantra “I do not belong here!” reverberated from my heart while my will and reason demanded that I faithfully attend.

illustration by Brian Linn

This internal battle grew to the point that going to church became sheer torture. When I went, the ache in my heart grew to unbearable, almost physical pain. I became panicked, ran outside the building, huddled down in my car, and sobbed. The pain often did not subside until after a good night’s sleep. I convinced myself that these were simply demonic attacks, and I was just lonely. When it became clear that I could not stand going to a certain church even one more time, I would move to a new town and try all over somewhere else. Yet no matter how hard I tried to connect with the people at church, and even after I became very happily married, the feeling that I cannot belong at church would not leave.

In December 2008, I discovered a book that would change the course of my life: The Shack. The funny thing is, I learned about this book at church. While The Shack spoke to me in many ways, what really helped me get free of church was the podcast I found by the co-authors of the book–Wayne Jacobsen and Brad Cummings. I needed to hear that I was not crazy to think that going to church was just not working for me. Listening to their podcast, I realized I am not alone. Lots of people have stopped going to church, and I can too. Wayne and Brad supplied the permission I still needed at that point to leave the church.

I don’t need their permission anymore; in fact I rarely listen to those guys now. When I do hear a podcast it is usually my husband’s new fav: Into the Wildbut sometimes I go weeks or even months without listening to any religious voices at all. I stopped reading the Bible. I stopped praying. I can feel my soul clearing.

Sometimes it scares me that I am wandering so far from my religious roots, but at the same time, I am filled with exhilaration. I no longer am chained to a certain way of thought that demands I put on a certain mask and pretend to be a person who fits in that archaic mold.

One turning point came more than two years before I found The Shack. In my last few days in California, I took a personal retreat at the beach. I didn’t hear much or progress far spiritually; I was actually very distracted. But I did hear one thing: “I would rather have you be yourself than worship me.” Sorry God. I just cannot pretend to be someone else in order to please you any more. The good news is, you never wanted that in the first place.