I grow uncomfortable when I realize I’m acting “outside myself,” behaving or speaking in an inauthentic way.
I usually do it out of fear (childhood), insecurity (teen years) or to stave off confrontation (it’s easier to conform than it is to stand out as an adult).
You see, when I was a child, life wasn’t stable.
I don’t blame my parents at all, even a little bit. They are human, they were young, they had their own childhoods to contend with, and they did the best they could. (Understand: it took YEARS for me to get to this place of peace, but I’m so thankful I did.)
My brother and I were raised in a world where fear reigned. The Deep South’s dry bones cry out from the ground loud enough as it is, what, with all the horrors of the past. But mixing in the fact that so much of that horror was not only accepted, but also praised and practiced by the Church, makes the confusion ten times worse.
Down here, if you’re white, then God is also white. If you’re Conservative, He is that much more so, and if you’re a woman or a Black person, He thinks you are lower than low.*
At least, this was how it seemed to me as a young girl growing up in Mississippi.
I felt like God had maybe saved me, only tolerated me, and definitely didn’t like me, let alone love me.
And the church we attended only backed up these beliefs. Our Southern Baptist church was not super-welcoming to a family who didn’t have a lot of money, smelled like cigarette smoke, and wasn’t privy to the ways of those who’d been “fortunate enough” to spend generations in the upper echelon of Southern society.
No, we were just poor, Italian, former Catholics who were trying to understand the Maker the best we could. (Oddly enough, my church also wasn’t kind to the missionary kids, the homeschool kids, or the kids who attended youth group every Wednesday because they genuinely believed this was a commandment of God.)
I also never saw a single minority attend my church, and the people that I now know are gay were definitely singing praises in the choir, but never about how much they loved the same sex.
I can remember Sundays spent listening to how privileged I was because I was a Southern Baptist and knew God wasn’t going to burn me in Hell for eternity like the “others.”
I remember even then, young as I was, thinking how odd it was that a Creator would create a multitude of different creatures, only to have such a large portion of them burn in Hell for all of eternity.
Eternity is a long time, y’all.
This uncomfortable feeling that maybe I wasn’t serving a kind or “good” God carried over to nights spent listening to my super-imperfect father read us Bible stories where God commanded the destruction of entire nations or called on people to kill all the women, children, homosexuals and animals.
There were passages where daughters killed themselves because they’d made vows to God, fathers were commanded to murder their own children, psalmists were praising God for smashing babies’ heads against rocks.
These passages were presented to me as “Biblical Truth.” The Bible is literal, I was told, never understanding that every single solitary person has a different version of literal.
It’s funny to me now, reading the Bible as a much more liberal and progressive adult (and a much more loving and centered human being), that my father—-and my Southern Baptist preacher— always skipped right on over those passages about welcoming the foreigners, helping the poor, loving the neighbor who didn’t think or believe like you.
The God I read in the Bible now is a much different God than I knew then.
Unfortunately, I can’t undo all the damage that was done to my brain. I still find myself wondering and asking, “Is the God of Christianity a God I would choose to believe in?”
Lately, I’ve answered that question with a resounding NO. And I have a peace about this that “surpasses all understanding.”
Because I realize that the God of my childhood was a God of fear.
I get now that this fear bred an intense insecurity in me, passed down from the fears and insecurities of my parents, which followed me all through school.
I didn’t have the certainty other kids had because I didn’t have their privilege. I see that now. I wish I had seen it then.
I might have been less fake, more kind, and more loving to myself and others.
I might have taken different and more authentic paths that would have led me to better and more genuine places.
But God knows what God is doing. And I wouldn’t have the amazing crew I have in my life now had I not lived the life I lived then.
I’m beyond thankful.
And that’s the crazy thing. The last few years have been horrendous. I lost myself about twenty years ago, attempted to find myself a little less than a decade ago, was too afraid and disillusioned to go “all in” (even though I’d prayed about this! hear me, y’all! LISTEN to God!) and turned back to the desolate place of dry bones where I felt more comfortable.
The place where I felt “certain.” Certain equaled safe, and I needed safe.
Tuning out God’s voice (as if that’s even possible) I barreled right past a firm NO and did something I wasn’t supposed to do.
And I’ve been miserable ever since.
But you know what’s funny?
God. God is funny.
Because He takes these idiotic, foolish choices we make, and He uses them (when we allow it) for GOOD.
I’ve learned so much about myself the past four years. That wouldn’t have happened had I “obeyed” God.
I’ve learned so much about the true history of my faith. Things that pastors never taught me, because why would they? Pastors are like salespeople for the Church. My husband is a salesperson, and salespeople are good. But they’re not gonna tarnish the product, ya know?
One thing I’ve learned for sure is that some of the most “Christian” people you meet are the most “UnChristian” people in the world.
At first, this really bothered me. I would grow livid at something I read or heard said by someone who believed themself to be the pillar of faith.
Or, I would listen to lay people talk, and I would realize that while they loved to pretend they had genuine intentions to help others, they were really just out for themselves.
I would watch the choices people around me made, and I would see that there wasn’t a lick of the Real Jesus in their actions.
But they thought they knew Him. Those who wanted to be like these people thought they knew Him, too. The people that seemed to “matter” most in the world thought they knew Him.
I came to understand that I was triggered by their hypocrisy.
(I hate the word triggered because of the negative political connotation it’s gotten, but I’ve definitely learned why people use it. It gets the job done!)
These people reminded me of the God of my youth. The harsh, confusing, ugly God who only loved those who appeared to live the “good life.”
You know what the good life is, right? It’s the Wealthy, White, American, Republican life. The American Pie life. What we’re all supposed to want.
The life where our homes are perfect, our kids are worshiped, and our lives are envied by all.
The life where our sins aren’t nearly as bad as the sins of those “other” people.
The life where our Jesus loves and serves only those like us, where it’s our job to make other cultures, religions and ethnicities be exactly like us because our way is the only best and right way.
I tried really hard to want that kind of life. I thought I was supposed to. After all, everyone around me wanted this life. Maybe I was wrong, and they were right. It certainly appeared as if the Big-C Church shared their views.
And it’s not like you question the Church. It’s synonymous with God, right?
But then came the mother of all days, and I finally knew for sure that I was right. Me, the one who wanted different, had chosen the “better” God.
And when that day broke me, along with the rest of the year and the year after it, I finally realized that breaking wasn’t so bad, after all. That sometimes the girl cracks, and in doing so, her eyes are opened to truth. Capital T truth.
Sometimes we must break first, and then we can set about breaking the System.
God calls us to different jobs within His Realm of Glory. When Jesus said, “The Kingdom is at hand,” He wasn’t lying.
It’s our job to bring His love to those around us. And oftentimes, we can’t do that until we’ve experienced what it feels like to be unloved.
Experiencing life with the most UnChristian of Christians over the last few years has helped me understand how to Love those that the Church refuses to love.
But strangely, it’s helped me to love those UnChristian Christians, too.
The problem with your standard run-of-the-mill white, American Christian today, especially in the South, is that they haven’t been unloved yet.
I’ve come to see that their privilege of living “the good life” comes at a price to them, too. They aren’t aware. They have no empathy and no ability to gain it.
They don’t see it that way, of course, but I do.
Having stepped into their world and their shoes, I now know how tiring it is to put on airs all day, pretending you have all the answers, feeling so certain as a means of staying safe and in power.
Give me the mystery. Give me the God who Loves and Forgives and showed His Justice through Mercy. Give me the fearlessness that comes with audacious authenticity.
That’s the privilege I’m looking for.
The privilege that allows me to touch, taste and hold that which the Church would turn away, like Jesus did with the drunkards, tax collectors, sick and poor.
The privilege that grants me peace to not have to judge because it’s not my job.
The privilege that tells me to Love the fatherless, widows, orphans and foreigners.
The privilege that holds to the Capital T Truth, that God is the Savior of ALL men, especially of those who believe. His kingdom wasn’t meant to focus solely on eternity, but on the here and now, bringing what was in the Heavenlies to the Earth in order to live life ABUNDANTLY, right now.
Thank you, Jesus for the privileges you’ve given me. May I be the light to the World that the “Christians” aren’t willing to be.
See you soon,
*It’s really hard to blanket broad topics. Of course, it should go without saying that there are many good and kind people in the South and the SBC who genuinely love others and the Lord. As for the rest of them, well, as they say, if they wanted a nicer story, they should have lived a nicer life.