Okay, so I didn’t really run screaming out, but only because I was trapped in the middle of a long row of people, and I was still entrenched in being appropriate and not making a scene. But I would have…and I wanted to…
Back in 2005, I moved back to the US after working as a missionary with Youth With A Mission (YWAM) for 13 years. (If you want to read my story about being a missionary and thinking I had all the answers for everyone in the world, here’s the link: https://mymagiccarpet.wordpress.com/2016/04/19/its-complicated-how-i-used-to-be-a-missionary-with-all-the-answers/.) One of the first Sundays in my new city, I went to a Vineyard church, which seemed at the time like it would be a good fit for me because it was pretty similar to the kind of Christianity (charismatic/evangelical) that I’d been involved in for more than 20 years.
When I think back to that Sunday morning, I don’t remember anything about the first half of the service, which would have been the worship part. I almost always liked times of worship, being in a group of people who were all singing about the beauty and love of God. Even if the music was crappy, I usually felt strongly connected to God. There is a loveliness I can’t describe in being surrounded by lots of earnest people affirming the goodness of the divine. Over the years, I had hundreds of experiences of deeply sensing the presence of God during times of worship. So it wasn’t the worship that made me want to bolt.
What I remember clearly is my reaction when the pastor started the sermon. All of a sudden, I was completely enraged that some random man I didn’t know, who didn’t know me, was standing up in front of all of us and telling us how to live. Surges of anger coursed through me, shocking me with their intensity. What in the world was happening to me? He wasn’t even saying anything I disagreed with at that point in my spiritual journey. It wasn’t his content that triggered my furious reaction; it was two other things. One was the fact that he was a man telling me, a woman, what to do, and I finally hit the boiling point about men being the primary leaders in the church. (The missionary organization I was part of has one of the most open attitudes in charismatic circles about women in leadership, but over the years I still often felt the sting of being second best.) I don’t know why it was that particular day that I reached the boiling point about men always running the show, but I did.
The other, even stronger reason for my reaction was that I suddenly was desperate to find MY truth. After 20+ years of choosing to accept that the Bible was absolute, infallible truth, and always trying to align my inner being with it, even if that meant squelching my intuition, my ‘knower,’ I suddenly couldn’t do it anymore. Again, I don’t know what caused that particular morning or that particular sermon to be the turning point for me. I have no idea now what the sermon was about. At the time, I didn’t even know any of this was brewing in me. It just happened. One day I was going along with the status quo, being a conforming Christian with lots of tidy answers from the Bible about how life works. The next day, I was flooded with anger and shame about all the hundreds of times I hadn’t listened to my knower.
The reaction I had in that moment was visceral, intense, and frightening. I wanted to crawl out of my skin, trapped there in the center of that row with about 8 or 10 strangers on both sides. Julia Cameron says that, used properly, anger can be fuel, and my anger in that moment launched me on a journey of questioning that ripped apart everything I had built my life on. Over the next weeks, I read through big sections of the New Testament, and with a red pen, crossed out anything that didn’t sit right with me. (God sending people to hell? I couldn’t believe in that kind of God. So I crossed it out. Men being the head honchos because Eve sinned first? Nope. Red pen time.) It was one of the most empowering things I ever did. I was finally acknowledging for the first time what I really felt, sensed, and believed about the divine.
I’ve never been back to church.
It’s been about 11 years since that Sunday morning. During that time, I’ve done lots of soul searching and exploring about what I believe and how I connect with the divine. And it’s finally time to write about my spiritual journey. But I can’t encapsulate my new spirituality in a few sentences, and I’m not going to try. Instead, I’m going to end this piece with a cliff-hanger, and a promise of more installments to come over the next weeks.
Also, it’s time to put myself out in the world as a spiritual coach (not a spiritual guide because YOUR truth is in YOU, and only YOU can find it). So if what I’m saying resonates with you, and you want help working through the tangle of religion and spirituality, I’d love to do a one-hour free session over the phone with you to see if you and I are a good fit for coaching. Just shoot an email to cynthia [at] magiccarpetlifecoaching dot com, and let me know, and we’ll get something scheduled!