Did I ever tell you about the time I was a Born Again Christian

In a weird roundabout of life, I’m living next door to the church I went to when I was a newbie Christian.

It was a wonderful church and it helped me tremendously at a very hard time in my life.

But that’s not really the beginning.  The beginning is the fact that my mother chose not to baptize me as a baby.  She grew up in religious home.  Church and related church activities from sun up to sun down on Sundays.  She baptized both of my sisters.  But I was a late life baby.  She was farther from her childhood and she decided to let me decide what to believe.

So I only went to church when my grandma visited or occasionally I went with my best friend to Sunday Mass.  I LOVED Mass.  It was so mystical and cool.  I did NOT love Protestant Church, which was so boring and uncomfortable.

When I was 16 my father died.  I was oddly not emotionally upset about his death.  I’m sure there are deep psychological reasons, and I won’t bore you with them.  But  I was more affected by all the uncertainty and change that came when the earner was gone and by my mother’s decision to move to Ohio.

Ohio was where I started to attend a group called Young Life.  Young Life in my high school was FUN.  It was a bunch of kids singing cheerful pop (not religious) songs and playing silly games.  A very cool and handsome guy would stand up and give a very short talk about things high school kids struggle with, which was generally funny and emphasized a strong moral imperative to act right.

God was only mentioned when we prayed before and after each meeting.  Also short and sweet.  Praying before a meeting used to be thing for just about any meeting so I really didn’t think it was too odd.

My point is that I never really recognized that this was a religious group.  I thought it was just a club where all of my friends could go and be silly.  I loved it.

Then they had a retreat and I went.  And that is where the God Factor was fully revealed.  They gave a full on evangelical talk and even though I had serious doubt that God even existed, I was also in a lot of angst, from being a teenager, from losing my father and because my mother was an alcoholic.

This is the summary of what I heard.  God loves you and ACCEPTS YOU JUST LIKE YOU ARE.  That last part was said over and over.  And I heard it.  And so I accepted Christ into my life.

I started to attend the church my good friend attended, (the one next door) and met lots of kind people in the process.  I got very involved in the youth group, in bible study, in youth service.  I loved the people and the activities and the sense of belonging.

I learned the deep importance of forgiveness from being a Christian.  I was taught the practical ways I could forgive someone who had harmed me.

I learned the joy of helping people just for the sake of helping.

I was very earnest in my belief, but it was slowly born on me over the next few years that I was the victim of a bait and switch game.  The simple message that attracted me to God was love and acceptance.  But the message that was swirling around in the undercurrent and occasionally in the open at church was not about love and acceptance.

I grew up being taught to look at each person as an individual.   To accept a person until that individual has done something to merit condemnation.  That is deeply ingrained in me.  And I was having a very hard time with all of the condemnation of groups that weren’t part of the Christian life.  There was this built in sense of us and them.  Not her, not him, all of the Them.  The oversimplification that comes from putting people into a group and judging.  The basis of all prejudice.

Then there was realization that there was a disconnect between church and my relationship with God.  Religious Life is an unspoken hierarchy of righteousness.  Another religious friend of mine and I compared it laughingly to being in Mary Kay.

Everyone was working for the Holy Pink Cadillac of churchiness.   You get a point for attending church.  You get a point for volunteering for something that helps the church.  You get a point for being in bible study.  You level up if you lead a bible study.  You get a point for being in choir.  You get a point for going to the Wednesday night service.  You level up for bringing in a new member, And if you convert someone.  That is the pinnacle.  If you are the reason someone converted you have achieved the Holy Pink Cadillac.

See, church is made up of humans and that is what humans do in all group situations.  Only in church it’s kind of weird because you are supposed to be there for God, but most of them are there working for the Pink Cadillac of Holiness.  I was finding myself just as guilty of it and not liking it.

So I stopped going to church.  I figured then it would just be me and God and I would skip the distractions.  But there is a reason why they work so hard to keep you going to church.  The same reason why sober alcoholics are more successful if they keep going to meetings and dieters are more successful if they attend the weight watcher meeting instead of just the weigh in.  Because humans respond to the need to fit in, to conform when we are in group situations.

Without the group telling me what to believe about what I read in the bible, my mind was free to think about it differently.  At first this was very freeing, I was able to find lots of reasons to discard the prejudices that abound in Church and accept all the groups they condemned.

Eventually, I explored other religious views and other ideas and over the course of 20 years I came to where I am today.  A nonbeliver.

But I don’t regret my time as a Christian.  It was just what I needed.  I met some very wonderful and kind people.  I learned some valuable life skills.

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7 thoughts on “Did I ever tell you about the time I was a Born Again Christian

  1. Your journey sounds familiar. Most of my family is “religious.” My nephew is a pastor and both my brothers are “big” in the church. On the other hand, I had trouble with some of the teachings as they are applied today compared to what Christ originally (allegedly) said. It is a social institution that will include you and give you comfort. I have found that most of my friends embrace it when times are tough. They will say “I will leave this to God” but is that any different than saying “I have no control over this so I will let it go?” I don’t worry about the inclusion. It’s the exclusion that is deadly. There is too much of that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes. Churches and all groups suffer from that exclusion principle. Basically they suffer from our human need for great comfort & safety around shared sameness. Religious groups who do it feel particularly hypocritical though.

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  2. I love the Mary Kay metaphor. There are many fine people who attend churches and I see them volunteering to help others in need. At the same time, there are too many who use the bible to exclude and that frustrates me. These actions miss the larger point of treating others like you want to be treated, which I believe I read in the same book.

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      1. Gandhi said he very much admires Jesus, it is the Christians he worries about. I believe he is speaking to this concept of exclusivity. To this point, I was talking with a religious professor who runs a campus interfaith group. She said every group is actively represented but evangelicals, who came to the first meeting and did not return. She felt there was an unfortunate close mindedness that prevented active participation with others. As a non-evangelical Christian, I can understand this sentiment. To me, I prefer to think of a God as a big tent, everyone is welcome God.

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  3. This is a great post that I can really relate to. I became a Born Again Christian at 16 in 1987 and spent the next 15 or so years doing all you said. Going to church on Sunday (morning and evening), Bible study, women’s Bible study, youth group and praise and worship practice. Any meeting that was called I went. I taught Children’s church, cleaned the bathrooms and did anything asked of me. But it started to become too much. It was the classic Bait and Switch. I loved the promise of, “Come to me all you are burden and heavy laden and I will give you rest… For my yoke is easy and my burden is light”. And it was in the beginning. It was a beautiful time. But then it got to be exhausting. As I got deeper into it I had questions and was often rebuked for not having enough faith. The thing is, at first, it wasn’t lack of faith. It was just not understanding. The more I asked the more I was told that I shouldn’t question. Of course there was a lot of other stuff going on but I stopped going to church completely in about 2003. I recently started going to a local Quaker church that fits my beliefs but I work Sunday so rarely actually go. I haven’t reached a point where I am glad for my time as a practicing Christian. I mostly just feel sad that I never really had a lot of fun as a teenager.

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