Wednesday, July 1, 2015

How I Almost Embraced Christianity….if it weren’t for Christians

I’m not sure when it started but I always talked to God – ever since I was a little girl. While this may sound like the norm for many, prayer and commune with a higher power was not something that was ever taught to me.  I grew up in an interfaith family - my mother, a Muslim, and my father a Buddhist.  Their worship rituals were drastically different, ranging from Muslim Koran readings, to Buddhist meditations, the lighting of incense for the departed, paying respect to ancestors, fasting, and regular charity towards all living beings like freeing fish and birds during Buddhist holidays, and coming together to pay for funerals for underprivileged Muslims.  You’d think this would be confusing for an 8 year old when God had so many glorious faces and was called by so many different names - Allah, Buddha, Yahweh, Jesus.  Oh, I forgot to mention - to complicate things even more, throughout my elementary and middle school years I also attended a private Christian school where I studied scripture daily for 7 years.  But really, it wasn’t confusing at all.  In fact, when I think back to those years, I recall feeling a clear sense of certainty and faith in God, something that I haven’t felt as powerfully since. 

While I never called my God by a specific name, he was undoubtedly present in my life at a very early age.  He protected me from the Salem’s Lot nightmares I used to have when I was 6.  He helped me feel safe as a 14 year old traveling alone on a plane across the Pacific ocean.  He helped me navigate loss, heartache, and gave me strength to face a miscarriage and a divorce later on in life.  In my world, God was ever present, always embracing, and it didn’t really matter what he looked like or what I called him.  He just was.  Life’s only certainty.  As I entered my teen years, I became deeply devout to the Christian faith.  I wore a tiny golden cross around my neck.  I read the Good News Bible every night before I went to bed and quite honestly I “felt” the spirit often in my daily routine.  Slowly I began seeing myself as a Christian and I eventually decided to get baptized when I was 15.  My relationship with God and Jesus was tight.  I had no qualms, no questions, it was natural. 
I went on to College and “church hopped” quite a bit but had difficulty finding my place.  I didn’t look like any of the kids at the Baptist Student Union and my life experiences were so drastically different that I had trouble relating to the upbeat music and small group experiences.  Plus, while self-identifying as a Christian, I related much more to the international students of various faith backgrounds – and none of them ever preached to me.  I dabbled with the Catholic Church and probably because of my background, found peace in the ritualistic aspects of the service, but because I wasn’t able to take communion, I always felt like a perpetual visitor.  I went on to church hop all through my adult life, seeking, yearning for a place -but no matter where I went, the message was sometimes subtle, sometimes loud and clear:  You, Mae are on the right track, but your parents will not have a place in the Kingdom of God.  And it wasn’t just my parents who were lost, but it was my entire family, my international friends, and probably most of my country of origin (Thailand) too.  And it was my sole purpose to save them.  But what exactly was I saving them from?  These were GOOD people who not only believed in God but who also strived to live their lives as Christ did.  In fact many were living their lives in a more Christ-like manner than my Christian friends who were engaging in premarital sex, bullying, gossiping, and oh, the judgement was brutal.  If the God that I knew didn’t see this, then maybe I didn’t belong in the Christian faith after all?

As I entered adulthood, I encountered many incredibly loving Christians who modeled grace and compassion as I continued my journey of spiritual seeking.  Maybe there still was a place for me in the Christian faith?  I took on Meals on Wheels routes with Christian friends delivering food to the sick and elderly.  I prayed with them in my office when the second plane went down on 9/11.  But you know what?  My Muslim, Buddhist, and atheist friends were engaged in the same types of community outreach.  Caring about your fellow human wasn't something patented by Christians.  And then something began to happen.   ALL THE TIME.  I began encountering more and more self-proclaimed Christians who began talking “at” me rather than with me.  In the name of Jesus, I was told that my gay friends were an abomination, that my pre-marital co-habitation with my husband was a disgrace – that I was a disgrace.  That I needed to only be around other Christians or I would be too “tempted”.  A dear friend recently explained to me that Christians are called to profess their truth and preach the gospel and that while it may come across as judgement, it is not intended as such.  I can respect that, really I can.  But what I really couldn’t come to terms with until this day is how little and unworthy I was always made to feel.  I was never good enough, strong enough, disciplined enough to be loved by God.  My family, my friends from other faith backgrounds, my gay friends, the rest of the world’s population were not worthy enough to be loved by God.  I thought back to my early childhood years when I didn’t really choose to have a relationship with God.  I just did.  He spoke to me and I opened my heart to him and it didn’t matter what his name was.  He was just always there.  But this new Christianity that I seemed to be encountering more and more was ironically coming between my relationship with my God.  Would God really want someone to pen a sign that said “All homosexuals will burn in hell”, like the one I saw at a rally in college?  Would God really want Christians looking down on the rest of the world as sinners rather than walking alongside fellow journeyers in pursuit of a meaningful relationship with God? That “us” versus “them” mentality just didn’t sit well in my soul and definitely wasn’t what I felt in my heart that my God was calling me to do.
And so slowly I began to find my own path towards God, and away from Christianity.  While I have extraordinarily kind and inclusive Christian friends, I just haven’t been able to find my place in a faith that continues to have such a wide range of interpretations, and so much internal dissent on what it means to lead a Christ-like life.  And so in the meantime I seek and I journey and I live my life in a way that nurtures and grows my relationship with that God I knew as a child.  The one who was ever present.  The one who loved my parents and loved the world.  The one who inspired me to go out and become a part of the world and to walk alongside fellow travelers with no agenda other than to love.  The one whose light shines brighter than any name or title that any human being could assign.   I think back to my Christian friends during my early adulthood – the ones that made me want to know Jesus – and it occurred to me that they never once verbally professed their faith to me.  They just lived it.  Loud and clear – bringing food to inmates on the weekends, singing to the elderly at nursing homes, always having a warm bed for anyone who came through town.   There was no talk about loving the sinner but not the sin, there was just simple, pure love by example.     

I haven’t given up on God, I don’t think I ever will.   But I’m coming to a place where I may be giving up on religion, perhaps?  You know, cut out the middle man and go straight to the source like I did when I was a little girl?   The funny thing is that I never taught my own son (who is now 7) to pray, and he has been talking to God on his own since he was 2.  We don't even attend church so I have little choice but to believe in divine intervention.  Sometimes he prays on his hands and knees with his hands clasped like his Kentucky grandma does.  Sometimes he kneels down and faces the sun and talks to God like his Thai grandma does.  I can't help but think that we grown-ups get in the way of that direct line to the Universe, that we were all gifted with at birth.  I hope Christian friends reading this do not take my comments as an assault on all Christians and Christianity.  Cliché as it may sound, some of my best friends are Christian and I frequently find immense joy when journeying alongside them.  And to all of you who are tempted right this very moment to send me a private message to invite me to your home to share the gospel with me, please don’t.  But I do invite you to walk alongside me, journey with me, maybe even come break fast with my mother during this month of Ramadan.  Show me that you are as human as I am.  Because no matter how eloquent and compelling you are, nothing that you say will ever be as powerful as the manner in which you live out your faith. 
Join me in my journey and I’ll join you in yours?
 

13 comments:

  1. This may be one of my favorite posts you have done. While I don't usually comment, I do read many of them. But this one really spoke to me perhaps because lots of what you are saying are exactly some of the things I have been thinking and feeling lately. There are so many Christians that don't know the Christ I know. Thanks for eloquently putting my feeling down in your words!

    While our physical, neighborly friendship was to short lived (Raleigh welcomes you back anytime), I love that FB and electronics allow our virtual friendship to continue on!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, it's true, I thank Facebook for keeping dear people like you (and Mr. Salty) in my life! Thank you for your thoughtful comments, dear friend. Miss you and think of our time together with great fondness!

      Delete
  2. Bravo!! This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your kind sentiments, Sheryl!

      Delete
  3. Oh, Mae. Thank you for this blog. Thank you for your grace. Thank you for the many tears streaming down my face. Thank you for the invitation and freedom to truly live out Christ by simply loving people. This is the sole reason my family is moving back to Madison County and I am so excited to love along-side you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I just can't wait to be journeying and loving alongside your family to dear Tina! <3

      Delete
  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  5. A friend of mine shared this with me. Just wanted to encourage you. I really do believe that if you seek the Truth you'll find it. God bless you, sister.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your encouragement, fellow traveler!

      Delete
  6. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and feelings on this!

    There were some glaring truths that you spoke, that really made me contemplate my own journey. I know I've been guilty of putting myself on a pedestal or measuring myself against my more "sinful" counterparts, but I think I was missing the point of what God and walking this life with him means.

    Sure, when you know The Truth, you carry yourself in a different way but it shouldn't be to exclude, but simply to share it in such a way so others are enlightened as well. But from my personal experience, my inability to share in a loving way came from my immaturity to see myself as the same as my neighbor.

    However the bible very clearly says the greatest commandments are to love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:36-40).

    Anyhoo, one way I would challenge you is to bestow grace and love on the Christian believers you meet. No one is going to do their walk perfectly (I pray for discernment for those who simply tote the label yet live lives that are contradictory to Christ), but I do challenge you not to see your interactions with Christians as being what pushes you away. People are not perfect and people who are Christian are not going to walk perfectly. However I also challenge Christians not to place themselves on this "perfect pedestal" facade.

    Furthermore, I think what you're searching for and speaking of is not religion, but community. Community of other believers that live their lives in such a way that they don't have to blatantly say out loud their faith because they're striving to live it in their actions. (Although sometimes I believe we are led to share the truth blatantly and out loud)

    Just some thoughts. Thanks again!

    <3 www.LaurenRelinquished.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you for your most thoughtful comments, Lauren! Peace to you on your journey!

      Delete