Monday, March 9, 2015

Rules meant no decisions.

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I still feel very shaken by the phone call I had on Friday.  Years of my life trying to join a Church that I just feel doesn't want me -- but feeling a peace about it, too.  I'm not sure why life gave me that leg of my journey.  I just feel relief that it's over.  No more trying to jump through hoops.  No more obstacles put in my way.

I used to think faith was about rules and what I did and didn't do.  When I was in high school, I had a checklist of things to see how good of a Christian I was each week.  Choir practice?  check.  Memorize a Bible verse?  Check?  If I didn't write a missionary, deduct points.

Life was neat and orderly.  There was no gray.  Everything not done in faith was sin, and boy howdy, (as I used to say in high school) there was a lot of sin in those days.

My journey away from that isn't what I want to talk about right now, but sometimes how it would have seemed simpler to live in that, at least in some ways.  I remember friends who even acted dumber than they were so their husbands wouldn't feel like they were not as intelligent as their wife.  It was all part of being submissive to your husband (in the Biblical sense of the word, not as in Fifty Shades!)

I still get a magazine that is well known in some Fundamentalist circles.  I always read it, cover to cover.  Aside from being a voracious reader, there is something in me that feels like their lives are less complicated.  Denim skirts.  (I admit, I'm starting to buy some denim skirts these days but just because my fiance likes me wearing a skirt and I find them comfortable as well as much easier to shop for since I'm short.)  The women in this magazine generally have a lot of children, usually named Biblical names.  These photos look so clean, so polished, so perfect.

But being perfect nearly killed my spirit.  It's been a long journey from there, a lot of study, a lot of change.  I even learned some Ancient Hebrew so I could read parts of the Old Testament in its original language.  What that gave me was an understanding that I couldn't have received otherwise.  One verse that was always held up as a rally cry -- I have read it in the original language.  No one can ever again tell me that it means something it doesn't.  That is a liberating feeling.

I think of a Stephen Curtis Chapman song called "Remember Your Chains".   There's a line that says "No heart loves greater than one who is able to recall when all it knew was shame."   That's what all those rules did to me.  Shame.  I couldn't live up to what I had in my mind that was required from me.

But it was easier.  It was easier than having to weigh the pros and cons of each situation.  It was easier to say all movies in movie theaters were bad and avoiding even the Christian ones because of the "unsavory place" (and more for appearances because it wasn't avoiding every appearance of evil).  Now I have the difficult part of life where I have to make decisions and not all decisions are made for me by someone in "spiritual authority" over me. I have to own the responsibility of my choices and not avoid everything.

The amount of shame was profound.  I couldn't grasp grace.  Just that I was bad.  Not that I should become a Christian because God loved me but because I was bad and I would be punished otherwise.  That's not love.  That's manipulation.  And while I do believe it is true, that's not why we should love God.  I John says "We love because He first loved us."  Notice it doesn't say "We love because otherwise we would be punished."

I don't know if the true Gospel was truly never presented to me or if I was so enveloped in a "do good, don't do bad" world that I couldn't see the real message of faith.

I admit, sometimes it feels as if the days when I was following the rules to the letter were easier because I didn't have to make decisions.  But they certainly weren't as freeing and peaceful.

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