Spirituality -- so what?
That title is a little flippant for this topic, but I digress.
Before I moved to Florida, I lived in Georgia. This meant I grew up in the Bible Belt from ages 4 to 14, some fairly formative years.
Neither of my parents were religious; my mom considers herself to be an agnostic, and my dad considers himself an atheist. But when they were raising me, they had decided to let me do my own thing and essentially figure it out for myself. They would be supportive of whatever religions I wanted to explore, should I choose to do so, but they weren’t pushing me in any particular direction.
All of my friends (all three of them) went to church with their families pretty frequently. And because I was hanging out with them so much, I was often invited to tag along. On some level, I do think this made sleepover pick-up/drop-off easier on all the parents, but I do wonder if this was a way to potentially convert an open-minded 8 year old.
From what I remember of those church experiences, I saw some fairly large Southern churches in those years. I saw some small, kid-focused groups, too. But mostly I remember that it gave me another way to fit in with my friends.
Somehow along the way, I joined the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at my elementary school. To me, it was a chance to be in another club with my friends, to tag along, to do what they were doing. We got matching T-shirts from FoCA to wear during our weekly meetings; we prayed around the school’s flag pole often.
One day, I was talking with my parents about what we had learned or discussed in that club that week. Somehow, the leaders’ opinions of “Western medicine” and dinosaurs had made quite the impression; namely that modern doctors had no idea what they were doing, and that dinosaurs were all a hoax made up by scientists to trick us out of believing in God.
As you can imagine, that didn’t go over quite well with my parents. They didn’t forbid me from hanging out with my friends anymore, but they did force me to quit that club. I remember crying, feeling like I would lose out on a way to connect with the only friends I had in school.
These friends, mind you, wanted to be mothers and teachers when they grew up. Even at 8, 9, 10 years old, wasn’t yet sure if I wanted to be a mother; I was maybe interested in being Scooby Doo or a paleontologist. And yet their whole lives were written out for them somehow, and it seemed connected to their faith in God.
I eventually moved out of Georgia in the 8th grade, starting over with new friends in Florida. These friends weren’t as loudly religious and some of them weren’t even religious at all. We bonded over musical theatre and gossiping about teachers and boys, and what the latest episode of Gilmore Girls was all about. I eventually decided that there was some sort of cosmic energy out there, but I wasn’t about to start labeling it as “God.”
Something to understand about the Christian south at large (and I’m making generalizations here, but they are well-earned), is that it feels highly exclusionary, judgmental, cruel and disastrous. The loudest Christians happen to be the ones with conservative values and lots of opinions on other people’s sexuality and bodies. They make you fee like if you’re too different from them, you’ll be cast out from the community at any moment. Like if you don’t believe exactly how they believe, you’ll simply go to hell and there’s nothing you can do about it. That was the Christianity I was exposed to and raised near.
Church and religion felt foreign to me. I found a love of reading tarot cards, and got interested in crystals and meditation and yoga — all things that didn’t feel accepted by Christian religious communities. There was still a cosmic energy I believed in, but I never bothered to sit and think about what it meant to me or how it affected the way I lived (if it even did).
Which brings me to about a month ago, when I started to pay attention to the signs in my life. Earlier this year, when I was waiting for a specific piece of news, I ended up noticing a lot (a lot) of signs relating to patience. The message of “patience” came from every dang direction, it seemed like. A while after that, I started to notice signs about intelligent women who also were Christians, something I hadn’t been around…maybe ever in my life.
I thought it was a bit of an oxymoron — that someone couldn’t be progressive, thoughtful, intelligent, extremely educated and Christian. It didn’t make sense to me. How could it, based on the strict and harmful Christianity I knew.
So I reached out to a friend whom I knew to be Christian, I started to read books by progressive Christian scholars, listened to podcasts. I wanted to learn more about what it meant to be a Christian in 2019, to be able to disagree with some of the messages in scripture, to believe yet to be a feminist, to understand how people could follow a faith that once seemed so heavy-handed and mean to me. Quite frankly, I also wanted to give Christianity a second chance, as it were. Perhaps this was the language around spirituality and faith that I had been unknowingly looking for.
Developing a practice of faith and of understanding how you see the world is critical, in my opinion, to understanding who you are. What do you believe in, if anything? What does that look like? How does that affect your choices and the way you live? What values do you hold dear?
You’re catching me at the beginning of this journey, but I wanted to honestly share this experience and my thought process with you. Why? Because I think I’m not alone, and I’d like to let you know that you’re not alone either. We’re all learning how to live and love better.