Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Religion part 1

So I've never really discussed religion or my views with alot of people before. Partly because I was afraid of being judged and partly because I wasn't sure what I believed so it was hard to put to words what I wanted to say. This is still the case, but in the last two years I've taken a hard look at myself and my thoughts and this blog has been brewing.

So as a kid I was raised in a church family. My mother being the secretary at our church helped matters even more. We were in church every Sunday unless we were sick, or out of town or our family had a late event such as a wedding the night before, we rarely ever missed. We always went to Sunday school and if we were at a different church for services for whatever reason we reported back our attendance at the other church, it was important to my parents that we always attended sunday school. I learned the stories and made friends with people that were outside of my usual "group" I've never been sure if it was the town I lived in, or the classmates I had but we were divided into cliches nearly at birth. But Sunday School felt like the one place we all got along, that is until we got older.

I never doubted the existance of God, I knew he was there and I knew how to pray, well at least how they taught us to pray. The pastor at the time was a sort of "Rule with an iron fist" type of pastor, but he was kind and gentle. It was a strange combination, but being in my small town there wasn't anything to rock the boat so to speak. As I got into middle school I was still the God fearing christian that didn't doubt and didn't question. We learned in Cathecism that questioning was a sign of weak faith and weak faith was bad. I still resent learning that even to this day. Looking back I should have just shaken myself and my parents to open their eyes, but that would not happen for several years.

In middle school the differences from everyone's "groups" became evident. I didn't fit in with the cool kids, I didn't fit in with the jocks, I just didn't fit in. I found myself a fat kid with glasses and braces finding friends among the "social outcasts" Which involved me and one other person in my sunday school class. Everyone pretended to get along but we were divided, never working as a group, very passive aggresive. As time worn on I began to hear the comments, the snickers, I couldn't carry on a coversation with them because I didn't follow sports and I became angry. I took my anger to God. I asked him how I was supposed to grow closer to him when the people that were supposed to be on this journey with me were driving me away. I began to not like going to Sunday School and church was becoming more of a hassle than a joy. I couldn't understand the sermons and we were supposed to be taking sermon notes on all the sermons. I didn't understand a thing he was saying. I already had problems comprehending what I was reading, but when the preacher was using such large words and complex sentences I was at a loss.

The other kids in the class faked it and I felt stupid. They could get through it without even thinking about it, to them it was just another lecture. But maybe I was hoping for more, maybe I was trying to get something out of it and there was nothing to have. I began my downfall. At the end of Catechism you are required to test out of the class. You pass the test and they confirm you into the church, you fail and you get to keep taking the test until you pass, wether that be a month, or a year. I passed my test, but barely. The pastor spoke to my mother about some of the answers in my test and his concern for my well being. Nothing life threatening mind you but confused answers. The one that sticks out in my mind to this day was this: Do Lutherans believe in Purgatory? My answer was confused, but I basically said yes. He came to me and asked why I would answer the complete opposite of what I was taught. I was a bit taken back by the whole thing. He taught us that Lutherans believe you don't go straight to heaven, but there was no purgatory. That was it, no more explanation. I told him about that and he sort of followed where I was going with the thoughts and ended up giving me credit for the question. I still don't know what Lutherans believe on that subject, I should look that up now that I think about it. hmmm.....

So anyway I battled several years later with the idea of purgatory. What happens when you die, if Lutherans don't believe in pergatory then what? I had started to conclude on my own through a very small microscope that perhaps we paid for our sins on earth before we died. I watched my grandfather die for nearly 10 years before he was finally gone. 10 years of pain, surgery and heart ache. I couldn't make any sense of it. How could someone be so tortured for 10 whole years? Then I began to hear about my grandfather before he was my grandfather, and started to hear about some of the horrific things he would do. He wasn't always the sweet gentle man I remember. So my mind began to wonder, was this his payment for the sins committed in the past? I felt like an idiot thinking it and never discussed this idea with anyone until now. But as time went on I lost another grandfather. He was sick for about a week to a week and a half and finally passed away after those two weeks of severe struggling. And I thought once again, was that him paying for the sins of the past? I came to the conclusion that it couldn't have been because that grandfather did not have the same type of past. And yet when my grandmother went she went so fast, she wasn't sick or anything, just here one minute and gone another. And I began to wonder again. I spent years pondering this and from time to time still do.

You see, I've never really answered any of my questions, it's a constant battle and a constant search that I fear will never end, until the end.

So anyway.... In high school I was feeling more and more distant from the group that was supposed to be my family. Like a lab experiment I continued to try and fit in, to try and get along and gain acceptance in this group, and each time getting zapped by trying to go where I was not supposed to. Sunday School in high school became terrible. The first week our teacher told us his story of being born again, which is not really a Lutheran thing, strangely enough, I considered it a moment of clarity. But anyway it was a rivoting story and I really enjoyed it and thought the next year of class would be exciting. What I found it to be was mind numbing. That was the only week we talked about God. By week three it was all sports, all sorts of sports talk, and the girls would sit on the other end of the room and gossip about high school. I was fed up, just sitting in the middle twiddling my thumbs for an hour every week. Finally I told my parents I was not going back, of course I had to explain, and after that my parents never made me go back.

At this time we were all still involved in the Youth Group, so I took a bigger part of that, other classes, other people and some of the best advisors I ever could have asked for. It was around this time we also got a new pastor after the retirement of the one before. The new pastor was younger and understood a little more, and the advisors for the youth group were so down to earth. I spent most of my time talking with the pastor and the advisors and not really participating in activities with the other kids. I had found my place. I had always enjoyed the company of adults more so than kids my own age, I was mature for my age and I was o.k. with that. We went on several outings and weekend trips, some good, some bad. Went went canoeing for one trip and I partnered up with the pastor and we had a great time lazily floating along in last place and talking about nature and God.

On another trip we went hiking and I am quite the fast walker, I can walk quite well but I stayed behind and slowed it down and spent three hours talking to one of the advisors about faith as we hiked along. Those trips to me were the best. I had grown tired of the same actions and same responces from the class and became less and less caring about what we did together. We did finally attend a youth advent, we all shared rooms at the hotel that was hosting and there were different events for the advisors and for the youth, so I was seperated from the people I liked to be with. I spent the night falling for rediculous gag after rediculous gag until I finally got the hint and stopped playing. They wanted to go play volleyball and took off, I followed as requested and got down there and they were gone. That was the last straw so I gave up. I wandered the halls for awhile not really doing anything but talking to God. Still asking, how was this supposed to strengthen my faith? How was this supposed to help me? A weekend of feeling like an outcast.

During the main event everyone was sitting in the theatre. There were thousands of kids from across the state listening and singing and I sat there. I sat there all alone feeling completely seperated from life, seperated from everything. I never knew I could feel so alone amongst so many thousands. I got nothing out of that trip except a love for a christian rock band I had met the day before during a meet and greet.

So I had done these trips, I had tried to be vocal about religion and each time I felt like I was getting smacked, so I stopped talking about it, I stopped thinking about it and I stopped yearning for answers. I became a very internal creature. After high school I moved out on my own, I stopped going to church because church felt empty to me. No one there seemed like it was real. It's so hard to explain but I felt as if I was floating along. I became more and more aware of the sins and the evils in the world. But that will come later.

Now mind you, until high school I was a model christian. I didn't smoke, drink, swear, or anything un christian like. I treated everyone as I wanted to be treated, I saw the good in everyone and everything and couldn't understand the need for things like drugs and alcohol. I was just as my parents wanted me to be.

It was in high school I smoked my first ciggerette, the ciggerette I pulled from my father's ashtray to try and be like the cool kids. I found a group of fun people with wild ideas in school and I really started to enjoy myself, but with high school fun comes high school drama. I got tied up with girls on the brain and who said what and who yelled at who and so on and so forth. It's so hard to not get tied up into that. I became lonely. Everyone was dating and had lives and I was home every weekend with my family. I became lonely, and when drama meets lonliness you get me. I contemplated suicide everyday, life was horrible and miserable, and I just wanted it all to go away. Listening to my friends complain about having someone and the lives they were living I became jealous and that only made things worse. The only fun I truely had was in Band.

Band to me was my sanctuary. It was rough at times, but music to me was my creative output. I loved music and I poured myself into everything musical. This did not help with my social standings in school either. But I found a network of bandies that I found comfort in. I felt God had sent me to band to find a little bit of peace, of happiness, and I was grateful. Through out high school I began to ponder more and more and question more and more. I began praying, not like I had been taught, but praying like I meant it. I prayed for my friend's happiness, I prayed for peace in my life, I prayed for good grades to make my parents proud. I was still attending church regularly with my parents but I didn't seem to be getting much out of it.

I knew God existed still, I knew he watched over me, and I knew he would protect me. But it was everything else in religion that I began to question. I didn't know what I believed anymore, who was right, who was wrong? Where was I going and why? The preacher we had would use swear words in general conversation, he smoked a pipe and enjoyed a cold beer from time to time and I admired that. He showed me that even a man of God was human. But his sermons were anything but. His sermons were unconnected and confusing and I began to lose interest. I would spend my time in church remodeling in my head to turn the church into a house. It's strange, but I always think about things like that.

So anyway, high school came and went, finally. I got over the thoughts of suicide, I got over the feeling of helplessness and began to grow. My senior year I had experimented with alcohol and continued my smoking, but that was pretty much where I drew the lines. I knew my limits and felt God was staring at me in that judging way whenever I did these things, but I caved to sin and continued.

When I moved out of my parents house after high school I moved in with two of my best friends. I was living quite the life, working full time at Wendy's as a manager, partying every night with my friends and going to school full time. I still have no idea how I managed, but I did. I gave up on church until once in awhile I would be riddled with guilt and I would drag myself there. It's not that I didn't still believe in God, but it was inconvenient to me. The time I had was either spent working on Sunday mornings or sleeping.

Going to college as a commuter student was strange. I was attending classes with people that were friends outside of class, people that lived together so I felt I was on the outside looking in again. It was o.k. because they were judgmental, they were good people. I met so many types of people of all walks of life and really enjoyed it. I had several conversations with people about all sorts of aspects of life and was amazed at the differences in everyone. I talked religion with an 84 year old grandmother in my writing class one day before class. I told her I know he's up there but that's all I know for sure. She turned to me and said "Honey, that's all you need to know right now, believing is the first step, everything else will come in time"

Suddenly I felt better, I felt lighter, like it was o.k. for me to be questioning, to be curious. I felt so much better at that point. She told me alot about her life and her struggles with religion and for the first time I felt normal, I felt good, I felt like I belonged. We spoke alot that semester, she was an 84 year old african american grandmother with stories that were just amazing. For this poor white kid from farm country it was quite the experience and I'm still grateful for that today.

For several years I still struggled with religion, and with faith. How did I know I was going to heaven? How did I know I was good enough, that I was living a good christian life. There were times I was nothing but covered in sin and I battled with so much the next few years. I found good balance. I didn't drink to get drunk, I just enjoyed the casual drink, but the addiction to smoking was still there. I talked bad about people, I gossiped, I had very lustful thoughts, I was jealous alot. I started to look at the seven deadly sins and began to convict myself everyday for the horriblness I was committing. But then I would turn and look at the ten commandments and think, I follow these, which way is best? I can't possibly follow everything can I? It just seems like so much to follow and pay attention to. Sin is sneaky!

I ended up dropping out of college, I was tied up with my life back home. I was tired and something had to go, so I went with financial security. I got a third shift job and just began working. I felt rested and felt anew. My parents were a bit dissappointed but supported me non the less. That year I met some of the most amazing people I would ever meet in my life. People that opened my eyes to some of the most bizzar beliefs and thoughts on faith and religion and I just listened and was astonished. I developed alot of what I believe that year, with the help of some of these people that my up bringing told me were not christians, but I knew they were. The idea of religion pulling away from faith and christianity crossed my mind. That maybe all I was taught is not all right? And from then on my mind seemed clearer and more open to ideas and I felt less guilty about it.

Towards the end of that year I realized just how unhappy I was. While I still felt great on the outside with all these new friends and this new life, I just wasn't happy. I felt like I was going no where in life and getting there fast. I prayed and prayed often. I moved back home to gather some money and to take me out of the lifestyle that was dragging me down. I began to go back to church on a regular basis because I felt the need to be there. Not to worship with others but because in my head I felt closer to God there. Like maybe he would listen better if I was in church and praying. So I would go and pray for guidance, pray for answers, something, anthing really before I was destroyed by my own mind.

It seemed all hope was lost, I wasn't any stronger and no answers were coming to. Day in and day out I would go to work, have the same conversations with the same people and do the same job, I was losing my mind with the manotony of it all. One night on the way to work I felt it was the end. I felt as if I could not take it anymore, like the loneliness and the unhappiness washed over me like a wave and suddenly I wanted it no more. I veered left of center and began driving towards a semi head on. I felt it would be the best and quickest way to be done with it all. As the head light drew closer and got brighter, the sounds of the horn it was all so silent to me, and that's when it happened. It felt as if God had come down and sat in the passenger seat and bitch slapped me. I came to my senses and verred back to my side of the road, pulled over to the side and burst into tears.

How could I have come so close? How could I have let myself think this way. I knew then that it was God that had saved me that night. God had bigger plans for me. From that night forth I began searching and let God light the way. I followed him, I listened to him and it was like he was speaking to me all the time, directing me and showing me the way. I took back over my life and had decided to go back to school, away from home, away from all of this. I felt anew.

Within about six months I had enrolled in a university in Michigan and was ready to start over again. A new life.

Since this is already terribly long, I'll post this and start part two.

1 comment:

  1. pur·ga·to·ry
    –noun 1. (in the belief of Roman Catholics and others) a condition or place in which the souls of those dying penitent are purified from venial sins, or undergo the temporal punishment that, after the guilt of mortal sin has been remitted, still remains to be endured by the sinner

    I don't understand purgatory. Christ teaches us that the moment we ask for forgiveness from him it's over and it's as if he doesn't even remember our sin. It's such a difficult concept I think because we're used to the human form of forgiveness which is something that even the most well intended people make us repeat until they feel better.
    I also think that questioning stregthens faith, it helps us articulate and form the basis of our faith.
    Start with Jesus. If he is your savior all the rest is just details. Jesus doesn't ask us to be perfect, he asks us to strive to honor him and he understands that we do and will continue to fail.
    We've talked about all this before.
    You know I love you and I pray for you every day on your continued journey towards a fuller relationship with Jesus.