When I was maybe 10, my church had a Halloween costume party for the kids. I spent a couple days coming up with a costume of my favorite hero of the bible: David. I had a toga made out of a white sheet and a headband made from my mother’s red, white, and blue scarf. I found a tall walking stick in the backyard and wore my blue kangaROO tennis shoes with change in the zip-up side pocket.
When I got to church, I found all the other kids were dressed as monsters and superheroes and I realized that I was a nerd. My minister loved it and his excitement proved that we were kindred spirits.
My experience growing up in a Christian church was primarily positive. Sunday school was a very fun alternative to the boredom of a church service and the clear moral lessons from studying the stories of the bible helped me begin to organize the world. It was a part of my identity in how I knew it was to live, not in a way where I needed to proselytize or identify or make superior my differences from other people. It was just a part of my identity.
It was the rest of the Christian world that crept into my experience and helped plant the seeds of a lifetime of anxiety. My early experience was so innocent and founded in love; I was entirely susceptible to the fear manipulation and control that religion is most often used for. It so soured my impression in organized faith so as to eventually reject the idea wholly.
In truth, I am an atheist
Now today, suddenly, Christian ideas keep popping into my experience. Not as a moralistic warning, but I am seeing them in practicality and see their truths at play threaded into the fibers of real-life. It began while I was driving cross-country recently. I was having a conversation with my man about truth and presence. We were working on etching more finely the scope of our relationship and I was telling him how deeply I felt that from a place of love, honesty, and presence, basically anything is possible. That I felt like there was room for all evolutions of who we are to become as we spend our lives together if our base is that of love, honesty, and presence. Anything is possible. And almost immediately, I passed one of those scripture billboards that dot the midwest. The billboards I usually shout GO FUCK YOURSELF at and would shoot a paintball at if I cared to. But this one said in stark black and white “With God, all things are possible.” And I knew we were saying the same thing. To look at God with my own belief system, that God is not the personification of a storybook, but rather, the source of all things, the overwhelming, electric force that is available through the muck always. To look at God as love and truth and presence, then with God, yes, all things are possible. Then damn-it I saw myself as a Christian in a way that I had never known.
Once I replaced the “person” of God in my mind with my experience of my life as I have come to know it, suddenly antiquated and unreachable symbols from the bible made great sense to me: the holy trinity, the apple in the Garden of Eden, rejection of false idols, communion…and how those things intertwine and relate to one another.
There’s a passage in Corinthians that is usually quoted at weddings as if it were somehow about romantic love:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
I picture love/charity/God as the big bowl that holds all of existence. We spend our time getting bound up in the items that fill that bowl, even in our greatness…but those things are just the “stuff” of life. At any moment we can surrender and drop into the basis of all of it, the love that supports and makes possible all things. I feel each are important…to get bound up in the things of life until we have played them to the point revealing their emptiness and/or limits, and then to experience them dissipate and to return home to the realization that we are held up by love at all times.