I HAVE STRUGGLED with church for decades. So much of what was preached from the pulpit and lived out in the congregation did not gel with my understanding of the life and teachings of Christ. However, to question the contradictions I was experiencing was met with disdain and left me feeling like a heretic, a backslider and sinner who lacked faith and was disrespectful of authority. So I tried to get along, toe the line and believe that my involvement in the church was commendable; after all, I was working for the Lord and extending his kingdom here on earth. The “kingdom” that was labelled “Baptist”, “Assembly of God”, “Pentecostal”, “Charismatic”, “Anglican”—whichever church I happened to belong to at the time.
After a particularly unpleasant incident in a small church in Outback Queensland, I gave up completely on my quest for a spiritual home. I was over it. I had tried so hard to find a place to belong and had failed. Nonetheless, deep within I held on to a thin thread of hope that maybe one day I would find that elusive faith community that would accept me as I am, just as I would accept and love others as they were.
Eventually a horrid situation erupted from the depths of my mind, shattering my spiritually stifling fundamental evangelical faith and tearing it apart. Gone were the constricting constraints that held my black and white, cut and dried beliefs together. Gone was the narrowness of my understanding of God’s love and acceptance of people that set me apart from the “sinners” who did not know him and those of us who belonged to his chosen few. Gone were the thick iron chains that had bound me to the belief that I was never good enough to be part of the “really chosen ones”, those in church leadership; the understanding that I had no right to think through life issues on my own, let alone make decisions for myself on matters that affected my life and future. All of that was gone. Flung off in a flash with chaos reigning and any sense of normality flying out the window. It really was a time when “my chains fell off”, as that old hymn says, but in those early days my heart was definitely not free.
One of the many challenges I experienced was that I felt so alone with what I was going through. I thought I was the only one to have walked this path. I was frightened that I was letting God down, and I was so afraid to even think of reading non-evangelical writings lest I be led further astray. I was dreadfully confused, particularly because all I had tried to believe in, all that I had given my life to, had turned to dust and been blown away by a mighty gale, never to be gathered together again.
God in his graciousness led me to several organisations that addressed the issues I was going through. Each one has contributed to my journey, and I am so grateful for them.
Richard Rohr’s Centre for Action and Contemplation[i] and his extensive teachings helped ground me when the storms of confusion battered my soul. J.B. Phillip’s book, Your God is Too Small[ii], simplified my comprehension of why I had never felt comfortable with what churches had tried to instil in me. The website Mindful Christianity Today[iii] has been a source of encouragement with many of its messages resonating deep within, strengthening my understanding of God and teaching me how to be still in his presence and in the process learn more about his character, his love, grace and mercy.
In the early weeks of my intense rage at the church for what I had been caught up in, I came across Greg Albrecht’s book Rejecting Religion: Embracing Grace[iv], an incredible eye-opener if ever there was one. Using the words of Jesus in Matthew 23, Greg Albrecht broke open the lies of the church and her leaders and the resultant bondage they placed upon their congregations. When I first read that I was dumbfounded. How dare this man write as he did! Gosh, if I had have said what he was saying I would have been kicked out of the church for heresy. But here he was, writing about the very concerns that had all but destroyed my soul and had left me so spiritually bereft. Greg Albrecht did not leave the book there; he went on to demonstrate that each one of us has a responsibility to forgive those who have hurt us and live a life of grace and mercy, just like Jesus did.
While reading through Rejecting Religion: Embracing Grace a second time, I decided to contact the publisher and was pleased to have Greg respond to my email. Through that connection I am appreciating the work of Christianity Without the Religion/ Plain Truth Ministries[v], and I look forward to more involvement with both.
Over the past few days I have come across a Facebook site that has been such an encouragement: Progressive Christians[vi]. Like other members, I was hesitant about becoming involved with this group. After all, doesn’t “progressive” mean liberal, anti-Christ, ungodly, accepting of all people—including gays and lesbians? Oh dear. What was I getting myself into? What I have been experiencing on this site has been acceptance—that elusive sense of belonging that had evaded me for decades—love, grace, compassion, kindness, care.
Belonging to this group is so far removed from the narrow, bigoted, restricted view of God that I had found so difficult to embrace—and had felt so guilty for being rebellious and lacking in faith for not embracing—and the abiding peace and unfathomable freedom that God has promised for those who love him.
Putting all these contacts together I feel that at long last I have found what I have been looking for. I feel so content in this fresh awareness of my God who has been with me throughout what has been at times an unbearable journey. Standing at the threshold of this New Year, I can sing afresh the words of that old hymn that have now taken on such an invigorating new meaning:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.[vii]
[ii] J. B. Phillips, Your God Is Too Small. New York: Macmillan, 1953
[iv] Greg Albrecht, Rejecting Religion – Embracing Grace. Pasadena: Plain Truth Ministries, 2010
[vi] Progressive Christians, Facebook