Ambivalent Accidental Methodist

I made the jump.

After hanging around evangelicals, tolerating Southern Baptists, and trying my hand at Presbyterianism, I now attend a Methodist church.

My new church is a good deal more liberal than my past churches.

I don’t really know how this happened.

*

After graduating from college, I left the church my parents had attended for over a decade for the local “touchy-feely” church down the road.

I thought I’d found heaven. Good music? White people who didn’t fear syncopation? Verbal acknowledgment of LGBTQIA people? What kind of liberal fantasyland had I stumbled onto?

Both this church and the Seattle church I called home were covertly Presbyterian. Nothing in their names indicated this identification. Nothing in their bulletins hinted at denominational ties. They’d mutter the acronym PCCCA during announcements, slipping it between the women’s retreat and the promised children’s Christmas pageant. I didn’t find out until I attended a conference sponsored by my Seattle church and found myself surrounded by Presbyterians. “Does Pastor John know?” I wondered feverishly.

It didn’t bother me too much. I’d still found my people: intelligent liberals who used words like “intersectionality” and loved to discuss art.

Or so I thought.

I found out much too late that verbal acknowledgement of queer people stretched most Presbyterians to the limits of their comfort zone. I learned the hard way that they prefer to discuss art and theology in the theoretical, sneering at those who try to pull debates into the emotional realm. I received more than my fair share of snide comments after the election.

I found out two years after moving to liberal, godless Seattle that I’d chosen the most conservative denomination in the entire city.

Go figure.

*

I left my last Bible study feeling like a failure.

We agreed our group was a place for honesty. We agreed there was room for doubt. We agreed that different perspectives enhanced our understanding.

Then, in discussions, we threw out all those rules.

The only things held sacred were roast vegetables and a historical outlook. Any interpretation from the left-brained set was The Interpretation and everything else was conjecture. Disputes were suppressed accordingly: “No.” “I don’t think so.” “The Bible is very clear…”

The left-brained set aligned themselves with God. They alone would protect his Word from those who would challenge and destroy it, amen, amen, amen.

They crouched behind a “biblical” barricade, calling, “You can join us once you’ve decided you’re on God’s side.”

Weeks passed where I kept contesting every bit of perspective they shared. I heard insanely unbiblical statements validated and defended. Tim once shouted down my objections to using “Turn the other cheek” to justify occupational abuse. Any dispute of mine that wasn’t shut down was met with horror: “How can you HATE the BIBLE?”

I don’t. I never have. Rather, I hated how our group reserved reading comprehension for a special subset of Bible scholars. I hated being treated as though loving Jesus and knowing his Word weren’t enough to admit me. I hated being held off from participating, as if my age and personality disqualified me from deep discussion.

My exit was treated as a tragic inevitability. “I guess you just can’t handle hardcore Bible discussions,” the group concluded.

After I left, doubt settled in.

*

I thought that by finding a church body I liked, my Church Anxiety would go away.

Turns out even in a Methodist church, I’m an anxious mess.

During a 9:00 AM Sunday school class on homosexuality, I sat, jittery, in my seat, unable to believe there were other Christians who cared about the queer community as much as I do. I’m used to being the only Christian in the room who hates language like “those homosexuals” or “the gay agenda,” the only one calling for compassion, bringing up gay history, or pointing out where the church has failed.

My anxiety whispered to me as elderly Christians cried over the unfair treatment of LGBTQIA people: “How is it you still don’t feel at home? Isn’t that a sign?

*

I hate that about emotions: sometimes they’re a sign, sometimes they’re not.

The Christians I’ve known have had very conflicting views on the subject of emotions.

Feelings are misleading…but if that unhealthy young couple feels God is calling them to marriage, they should go for it!

Feelings are irrational…but if you feel like you should hop on a plane to China to spread the gospel, it MUST be God’s voice.

I don’t understand the disconnect: if other Christians, however immature or irrational, feel something, that feeling must have spiritual roots. If I feel something, however strongly, that feeling must be leading me astray.

In other cases, I’ve watched friends express genuine emotion only to suffocate it with promises: “I’ll just do more. I’ll just commit harder. I’ll just have a good attitude.”

These same friends tell me in my worst moments of doubt, “If you’re feeling uncertain, it’s probably a sign.”

I’ve experienced this particular tension before: Christians promote joy as the most important emotion while distrusting other positive emotions: “Careful – don’t trust your feelings. You’re supposed to feel holy, not happy.”

I guess I’m most afraid of “being deceived.” I’m afraid of looking like a dope, fleeced by a false, feel-good gospel.

I’m so tired of being paranoid.

*

A staff member at my last church accused me of being angry at God, which isn’t true. I ‘m just tired of Christians rigidly committing themselves to certain Bible passages; too often I witness this rigidity affecting my walk and hurting people I love.

Any time I bring this up, my questions are met with defense. Not all Christians are like that, I’m told. Maybe some Christians are like that, but GOD’S not like that, others say. The worst moment came three years ago when I watched a group turn my outrage at the mistreatment of unwed mothers by the Catholic church into a blanket absolution of Catholic atrocities.

I just finished reading a novel where Christian characters, in all sincerity and love, used Scripture to justify abuse. I squirmed a little when I read their mission statement; everything seemed Biblically sound, thus impossible to argue. To see those values paired with harmful behaviors was an uncomfortable experience. I thought, Did I used to think this way? Do I STILL think this way?

I read the Bible and I see freedom. In the moments I read the Bible, I do feel peace.

I still have questions. Multiple times a day I think, What if we’ve been wrong about everything?

Maybe, as Christians, we have the basic ideas, but we’ve been twisting the Scripture all this time. Maybe a grand reset would help more than hurt.

I’ve been reading Christian writers who agree, who stand behind social issues, who welcome and affirm those with doubt instead of condemning them.

Still, when I read them, I hear the solemn inflections of Christians Past: “Didn’t Jesus say the way was narrow? Wouldn’t really believing the Bible make things clearer? Is Scripture really so hard to understand?”

And the questioning starts all over again.

*

The doubt persists. God I’m sure of and Jesus’ death I comprehend; I haven’t yet grasped “living out my faith,” whatever that means. I sometimes use Christian-y phrases I’ve heard for years and wonder, “What does that mean? What does ANY of this mean?”

I don’t tell friends about this. I remember the veiled disgust and extreme concern I received in college when I resented God for letting me stay single. My friends wanted me to be over it. They begged me to get “back on track.” They needed me to be a strong, certain person and I responded accordingly. I righted my course. I dismissed questions. “Don’t worry, guys! I’m still a good Christian! All that was just a blip!”

When I think of the kind of Christian I used to be, I can pick out good traits. The Old Lauren was a great friend, an earnest evangelist who loved working with kids, picked up others’ slack, and always said “yes” to everything.

That Lauren was great, but she was also exhausted.

I’m so tired of being tired.

*

My college Bible study used to do an annual Spring Break mission. Every year, I approached Spring Break with a combination of guilt, dread, and anger. Our group leaders made some lofty hypotheses about the state of our faith: “If you love God and are dedicated to serving Him, then you will go on Spring Break mission.” They reminded us that serving God required sacrifice of our time and money.

Every year, my friends all babbled about the trip: “We’re going to work at a campus this year!” “That’s so cool!” “I can’t wait!”

The ones that couldn’t go gave good excuses: “I can’t take time off work.” “I have an internship.” “My family has a vacation planned.”

I approached every Spring Break with the same reluctance: Did I HAVE to go? Did God WANT me to go? Others would gush about “our” upcoming trip in my presence, happily assuming my participation. I stayed silent, unable to muster up the enthusiasm they all seemed to share.

For two years, I sucked it up and made myself go. The other two years, I allowed myself to rest.

I regret both decisions. The two years I went, I had a great time. Inside jokes were born, books were read, friendships deepened. I came back to school, though, empty. I’d been promised “fullness” from my willing sacrifice; instead, I had zero energy and very few coping mechanisms for the upcoming quarter. I didn’t even question this – I started right in berating myself for not feeling fulfilled by this important service.

When I didn’t go, I found it hard to relax. A big part of me feared God was disappointed. I believed He saw me as useless. I thought He was angry that I didn’t “persevere,” that I let myself be tired, that I “selfishly” chose rest over service. All week long, I sat in a big puddle of guilt.

Saying “no” is still hard for me. I fear the incredulity others express when I refuse an honest request. “Don’t you want to serve God?” they ask.

Of course.

I want to serve Him out of genuine desire.

I want to serve Him in ways that don’t drain me physically and emotionally.

Guilt won’t motivate me anymore.

*

Galatians tells of the gospel’s simplicity. It sounds too good to be true, to give up days and months and seasons and years of spiritual observation for the freedom Christ offers. Those who promote a strict code of conduct are suspect, or so I read. I doubt the left-brained set agrees.

I have no idea what God is doing. I pray for a faith that feels solid. I also pray for the day I can leave Seattle and its shitty drivers behind. I hope these things happen simultaneously.

I’m learning to question and to rest. I’m trying to hold back instead of jumping right in. Trusting God sucks, honestly, but He is working. Most days I’m sure of it.

My fantasies involve meeting believers who are sure of God’s calling, who don’t feel conflicted about art, who do what seems right instead of what looks most “Christian.”

I like to believe this will happen.

I’ll muddle around with the Methodists until then.

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