This week, I found myself missing the church of my youth. Like homesickness, a lump formed in my throat when I recalled those days.
The church worked like a family unit and I was a parentless youth there. The message of the Gospel hit me like a 2×4 to the face; I remember thinking, how could anyone hear this message and not come to Christ?
I miss that it all made sense. The Catholics could have their false beliefs of “holy mysteries.”
The Bible was clear about nearly everything.
Pastor preached so elegantly and straight forward, there was no doubt in my mind where I stood on all the issues; of course, they were products of my white middle class midwestern culture, but I didn’t know that.
My brain let me gloss over things like, “You have to pray the sinners prayer and let Jesus into your heart, especially after the age of accountability” – not in the Bible – but yet, my heart was sinful and I should not follow it, lest it lead to the pits of hell. So which is it?
Fruits of the spirit included self control, yet if my shorts were too short, I (me!) was causing men to stumble in their walk with my Jezebel spirit. The body I have apparently, given to me by God, causes men to sin, so I have to cover it up. Yeah, because back then my unconditioned wavy – no, poofy – hair, unplucked caterpillar eyebrows, and pear shaped body that I hadn’t grow into yet coupled with painful awkwardness was apparently driving men wild with desire and it was up to me to stop them. I did my best to hide my body by wearing oversized shirts and men’s jeans that hid my curves so I looked like a box (I was a size 4/6, wearing size 10/12). I would be a freshman in college before I realized I could actually wear women’s clothing in my size and accept my curves.
Yet, I was responsible for the self-control of others. Jesus didn’t say that.
And then I met a man who got off on women in baggy clothing. It’s impossible to win at this game.
How come men never needed to cover up? How come there were no talks with the boys about not dressing to catch a girl’s eye? The church taught that all women were demi-sexual (one cannot be sexually attracted to someone unless they have a strong emotional bond to the other person): yet, that wasn’t my story and it certainly wasn’t me. Whenever the church described the sex-on-the-brain guy mind, they described me.
I’m really bad at getting with the program and staying in my lane, even back then. That’s why you’ll always find me on the margins, away from the kids who have it all together.
The church of my youth – a very conservative southern baptist outfit – had all the answers. This is sin. This is not. Stay on the narrow road. Don’t question. Just do. Like Jesus. It’s all here, it’s all been thought out for you, all you have to do is discover it, internalize it, live it, and then tell it to your children. Black. White. There was no gray. None.
I couldn’t do it now.
I need community, not a list of items to check off. And unfortunately, so many Christians are bent on checking boxes in the rule book and never engaging in relationships which are messy, imperfect, and complex.
And the thing is, after walking with the Lord for over 20 years, I have more questions than answers; in my youth, I had more answers than questions.
Once upon a time, we hosted a pastor in our home for three months and didn’t tell many friends. Once they saw who he was – a bleeding heart liberal – they would have pulled me aside to say I had no business housing this sinner, because the the Bible is clear: he is on the road to perdition.
“But my spiritual gift is hospitality!” I’d have retorted and probably have bruises from the Bible thrown at me.
I miss the days where everything was laid out for me in perfect understanding. I long for the days of “Because Jesus” and other pat answers were enough. I miss the times where I didn’t have conflicting experiences or friends or thoughts or read a Bible verse and went “Huh, that’s an odd thing to say here.” I never want to return to the days of “Us” and “Them,” but I must admit it was much easier to live that way.
As I continue to blunder through life, despite nearly half a century of rotating around the sun, I find solace in the margins of scripture. I lean into the nuance.
We’re all familiar with the story of Job.
But I wonder, did he ever think back to his first family and muse, “My son would have been a man now.”
There it is: the nuance. Some would say I’m adding to Scripture, but the more I meditate on it, I wish we knew the depths of his story.
My best friend is fond of saying that current happiness doesn’t automatically erase the past pain. I wish I knew how he dealt with that.
All this to say, I have no answers. In recent years, I’ve found it best to accept my low intelligence as a blessing.
The Lord ain’t through with me yet.