Thursday, August 9, 2012

From Chistianism to Christianity - Rebuilding my Faith

Christianism (not be confused with Christianity): Christian fundamentalists, mostly in the United States, for the ideology of the Christian right. 

My Original Salvation

I originally found God at Church Camp when I was like 10 (give or take, I don't really remember the exact age). Now here was the problem I faced then, and though I didn't really understand it then, as a child of 10ish, I look back and see it all now. Growing up I had trouble fitting in, anywhere. I really don't know what it was exactly (I was rather shy and quiet, but I was used to playing by myself as a small child and didn't get a lot of social interaction...) I didn't fit in at school, I really didn't even "fit" at home... The biggest problem here was that I also didn't seem to fit in at church - where everyone is supposed to feel welcomed and loved. I felt like I was drug to my stepdad's church every Sunday... I dreaded going there... like I dreaded going to school... like the summer I was dumped at a daycare at the YMCA... I dreaded that place. I wasn't the best at starting conversations, no one ever really tried to friend me, and no one ever bothered to help me learn how to make friends. I just felt dumped. I also dreaded going to school every day because I knew I was going to get picked on. And I dreaded going to church because I knew I was just going to feel alone... now, for the most part I was used to being alone - but I preferred to do it in the sanctuary of my own room at home with my music, my books, my toys. And I didn't like being forced to a church my mom wouldn't even go to.

So at church camp that year, the theme was Fear Not - many of you may remember the song, Fear Not, for I am with you, Fear Not, for I am with you says the Lord... what's that? Someone was with me? All those times I felt alone... even in my room... no one understood me... no one tried. But he was there? Now at 10, I didn't really comprehend this fully, but I still found myself pulled into this idea of God being with me, and found myself at the alter at camp (I wasn't one of those go to the alter every day at camp kids, but this one particular night I found myself there.)

Now, mind you I didn't really know anything about being a Christian or about God. But I liked the idea that he'd be there for me... he'd love me no matter what. This was new. But that's all I had... I didn't learn much in church - I remember wanting to learn about it, trying to pay attention... but it all sounded so greek to a misunderstood, non-diagnosed ADD child. It was really hard to focus on (and it still is!) 

And eventually the bullying at school, the loneliness at home and at church, it all took it 's toll... I didn't have the true Christian guidance I needed growing up, I didn't have anyone willing to understand me, to try and teach me, to just love me. People were too worried about how to change me, how to fix me. How to make me someone I was not. Hell I wasn't broken. I wasn't even "mis"guided - I wasn't even really guided, it was more like shoved. One parent will tell you I was a problem child... another will tell you I was never any trouble - and when I tell my dad that I was called "the problem child" he just laughs. If anything, I was "made" the problem child in my late teen years by being pushed to be something I wasn't... by being told I was a problem because I wasn't what they wanted me to be. Honestly, looking back I don't know what the hell I did so wrong... no one ever talked to me, ever really explained things to me, and they never asked me... And I had no one at church... so they dropped the ball on that whole love thy neighbor thing - and Christian leaders are supposed to mentor and support people, especially their youth... I will say there were two older (than me, college age) mentors in the church who I looked up to from camp, but once they left, it was back to square one. A lot of times I just felt invisible, and the rest of the times I wished I was invisible. I was back to feeling all alone.

Fast Forward to Rebirth

So fast forward a bit. Age 19 - down the wrong road (starting at age 17), rebellion, new friends (some good, some bad), alcohol, smoking, blah blah blah... pregnant. Moved to Georgia... read original testimony post for further details... 

Photo: for more pictures Subscribe Here --> Abdul Rehmann Janjuaa <--So I'm back in church, getting involved, all excited... at first didn't really feel any judgement from my church home, but did get a lot of judgement from other churches we visited with my husband's family... so I just steered clear of those places. Once Andrew was born and we were married it was easier to visit new places and not feel "shamed" because no one really knew our story... but the thing is, as I've learned over time, your test is supposed to be a testimony. So you are supposed to be able to tell your story... and most of the time when you tell a story like this in church, with a happy ending leading back to God, it's yeay happy happy. But don't expect too much warmth while going through the bad part of the story. There are true Christians out there who will love you no matter what. But there are a lot more Christianists... and most of them might be nice to your face, but will make sure to talk about you behind you back. Others will shun you to your face. And once people know your past mistakes, even if you "prevailed" there are still quite a few who will continue to judge you based on your past... sometimes the people you should be closest to... or at least you'd think. (Speaking personally here.)

I got involved with the praise team, and at first it was great... but over time people left... it dwindled down to only a few of us... and the leader wasn't very Christian, more like Christianist. A lot of times it felt like she was in it for "her glory" instead of God's...  Eventually I just dropped it all together because I was just frustrated with the whole thing. 

I started seeing this in the entire church... members started dropping like flies... the church almost closed their doors, and then merged with another church. It was a big to do - an all white and nearly all black church in Middle Georgia coming together in one of the most "racial" parts of the city. People said they wouldn't make it 6 months... they were wrong. They made it a year. And then the split. 

I had gotten involved with the praise team again, I just wanted to do what I loved and do it for God. But they couldn't set a consistent practice schedule, and eventually schedule on 3 hours on a Saturday, which really didn't work out with my photography sessions on the weekends, house cleaning on weekends, trying to spend time with my family... etc. So I stepped down again. 

I could feel the tension stirring in the church as well, things just didn't seem to be "growing" as planned... 

As I dug more for a personal relationship with God, I started becoming uncomfortable with the "negative" preaching... the condemnation that seemed to flow from people's lips, the stones people threw. We sang songs about God's awesomeness, about Jesus' amazing love. We were told over and over "it's not about religion it's about a relationship" and "love your neighbor"... but at the same time I heard negative remarks towards gay marriage, homosexuals in general, constant political discussions in the middle of the sermons... and as the church grew smaller yet again, more regular preaching about tithe... the money. Over time it was hard to depict a positive message from the hypocritical preaching... and I just stopped listening.

My husband hadn't been involved in church for quite a while with his struggles. I heard this statement from a close family member: "if the holy spirit was in that church, it would grow, it would thrive - and they would have been preaching God's messages - which would have convicted Adam (my husband) of his issues with the pornography, excessive gaming, not helping his family, etc a long time ago." But I tried my hardest to stay involved and to get the kid's involved - but there was barely anything for them. And many Sundays none of us made it because I was just exhausted, and if Adam wasn't gonna get up and go, well neither was I...

I also had got involved in our church's youth camp and I was super excited, especially since I'm getting to do one of the things I love most and am passionate about, photography. You know (imma go a tad off subject here, but in a way it relates...) I was really hoping my photography business would have taken off more by now... I mean I figured I'd at least get more response from family and friends when I was building my portfolio to get free photos, and even now to get the Friends & Family discount... but heck, they don't even ask how it's going... maybe it's just me (well it probably was ME... their opinion of me... something to do with me...)  but I just thought I'd get more of a response from people "close" to me... but you know, now that I think about it, a lot of those people have never been that close...  And for quite a few, it boils back down to those "Christianists"- folks who think they are all holier than thou and if you don't fit in their criteria then you don't belong. And I'm talking about family here... I never really had a close-nit family. You hear about brothers and sisters being close, cousins being close... Now I had a few cousin I loved hanging out with, and a niece that's like my sister... but my niece lived 800 miles away... one of my cousin and I got distant after a while, others lived too far away... the family members I enjoyed seeing the most and that we loved being around eachother didn't live close enough to hang with all the time.

I had half brothers WAY older than me... a half sister who didn't live near me, and now that we live close together, well I'm not completely sure why we don't see each other much... I had step siblings who didn't like me much. It seems like the people that were in my life growing up had to be there, so they put up with me. I had one neighbor "friend" who only wanted to hang out when my stepsister was visiting for the weekend - at school we didn't talk to each other. Another neighbor who, well we were pretty good friends at home, but my unpopularity probably inconvenienced her at school too. But the way it relates is most of these people still see the shy, timid little girl who eventually rebelled, went and screwed up her life, got knocked up, etc... no one seems to want to know the Godly woman she's grown into. No one seems to care.Well I won't say no one, but most.

Anyways, getting back on subject... getting involved with camp. I was asked to talk to the teen girls cabin about young pregnancy... but you see I have this very optimistic outlook on life and believe everything happens for a reason. So while I was able to explain to them the negative part of how I got pregnant, the guy bailed, it wasn't easy, etc... it was difficult not to throw on the positive ending... and I didn't want to give these girls the impression "go get pregnant to get a happy ending"... but many young moms who got pregnant don't regret having their child. 

There were a bunch of other negative experiences with camp, and I'll sum it up like this - I had to constantly remind myself I was doing this for the kids and God, because the constant judgement I felt, having everything I did questioned like I was an irresponsible child out goofing off, not doing what I should, etc.... it made me wonder was it worth it all...

To sum all this up, the past 7 years have been full of questioning, full of confusion...  not so much questioning my faith - for about a second I started to lose it, but I understood that it wasn't having faith in God that was a problem. It was having faith in "the church" that was teaching all this dogma... faith in "Christianism"... 

The Road to Self-Recovery & Self-Disovery

After my husband and I went through our separation and he was convicted of his issues and started to see the same issues I saw, we took a long hard look at our church life... and what we wanted for our family. God guided us to the church we're in now, and it's been amazing. So far, every message we've heard has been positive - constantly teaching about how to apply God's basic principles to our lives. It is a United Methodist church, but they seem to be on a more progressive track... The messages we should have heard last year, and the year before that... the messages that could have provided the conviction needed back then before we separated, they had preached them. (They podcast every sermon, and we've gone back and watched some from previous Sunday's... goes back to 2009.) 

They did this amazing series on Love, Marriage, Sex... in that order... last year, and the things they said we just looked at eachother like "where was this message when we needed to hear it? " Well it was at Harvest obviously, but we weren't there... we were in the wrong place. 

And what I've discovered is that the road back to God is a road of self-discovery. I'm going to quote Christians Tired of Being Misrepresented's blogpost for the rest of this, because they explain the "road back" better than I possibly could...

"The road back is the road to self-recovery; and it’s also a road to self-discovery. We find something new on the road back, in picking up the pieces of our shattered Christianism; we find the budding growth of Christianity. And through all of the muddled and hard-to-hear voices of our beloved scriptures, we hear a very feint voice. The voice of the past. A voice of a young Jewish carpenter who invites us to have the conversation ourselves, and points us in the direction of GOD. Answering our questions with more questions with the intention of pointing us back to ourselves. We thirst for learning, and loving, and caring, and sharing, and seeing the part of ourselves we never knew. The parts that God knew all along. We find ourselves connected to the Christian and Jewish thinkers of the past, in order that we may become the thinkers and theologians of the future.

In rebuilding we’re healing—and realizing one truth more than anything: now that we’ve unearthed Christianity from the shattered remains of Christianism, we can never go back." - 

And another post they did called "How Does One Rebuild Their Walk With God" - was a response to this question:

"How does one rebuild their walk with God after years of being maligned, criticized and treated like dirt by evangelicals due to being different, gay and not a clone?" Well  I can definitely relate to different and not a clone... I've also seen and heard horror stories about how churches or church groups/clubs have treated someone who is gay - even long time members and youth who have grown up in church, but have come out of the closet...

But here was the answer, and this applies to anyone whose come to this point and question:
"In rebuilding your walk with God I think it may be important to consider whether or not you wish to rebuilt that walk as a Christian or not. Either way is perfectly okay: you have to find what works for you. What brings you joy.  If you do choose to rebuild that walk with God as a Christian, then there are two pivotal steps.

"The first step, although it's not specifically a Christian thing, is to begin to center yourself in the experience of God. You don't need anything for this: in fact you won't find this outside of yourself at all. Not in the Bible, not in rituals or creeds; not in studying religious history and so on. It will be here in this experience of God, within your own consciousness and outside of it, when you acknowledge and accept the sacredness of you that all things change. That's when we realize that all of the malignment, criticisms, and being treated like dirt have nothing to do with God at all. For God is always in the highest and most grandest thoughts, feelings, and actions. To revisit what I said before, you don't need anyone or anything for this process.

"The second step (which is where the Christian part comes into play) involves a re-evaluation and critical assessment. By that I mean we have to strip away all of the old beliefs we've held about all things Christian: we have to re-examine what these things mean to us--Jesus, the Bible, Christian living, right and wrong--the whole shebang. When we've stripped away the trappings of the post-easter Jesus, with its Supernatural Theism and Atonement theories (beliefs that have evolved since the Middle Ages), like Daniel we begin to experience the difference between real and genuine faith and overhyped superstition.

"For example, it becomes difficult to discern whether or not real spiritual healing is possible when there are so many charlatans and 'faith healers' who take advantage of people. We tend to throw out the baby with the bathwater and condemn the whole thing altogether.

"When Daniel uncovers the footprints in the cave, he's showcasing how much superstition can rule us. Real faith does not require anything at all. Lastly, we can never be separate from God. It's impossible. But we can think we're separate and that generates our experience. And so most of us get along in the world seemingly disconnected and logged-out when it comes to God. But reconnecting with God is like plugging into an outlet or logging onto our computer. Think about how you feel when you have no internet connection--don't you feel lost a little, not being connected to everything? This about how lost we feel not being connected to God-a consciousness network. And that's how we live.

"Anyways, I hope you're able to re-establish your walk. God bless." George Koukouris

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